Asher and I recently took at pre-dawn walk from Second Valley back towards the farm, hoping to catch the light hitting the hills. We explored along the roadside for a while, then just as we were turning back, we noticed in a clearing the unmistakable shape of a Red Deer stag. For ten minutes or so, we watched, moved, hid, watched, moved and hid. The deer glanced our way, ducked behind trees, stopped, glanced again, ducked out of sight as we tried to creep closer.
We’d found shed Fallow Deer (Dama dama) antlers and tracks on our farm, and neighbours told us of herds of 30 or more, marauding through the forests inland, but we’d not yet seen evidence of Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). Red Deer came to Australia via the aspirations of colonists eager to replicate the aesthetic and hunting culture of English estates. Partly as a consequence of these early ‘acclimatisation’ efforts, the Red Deer now sits on the World Conservation Union’s list of the top 100 most invasive species. Despite this dubious honour, local Natural Resources staff later confirmed that while there are Red Deer on the Fleurieu they are seldom seen. There was a small herd known in the hills around Yankalilla in recent years, but over time it’s been hunted out.
The stag cleared a fence and stood in the middle of Main South Road for a while, watching us. Effortlessly, it leapt another fence and headed inland, stopping to glance back at us before vanishing over the ridge.