April 9, 2011
Craig Cygan was driving through Forest Lawn with two border collies in his pickup truck when he noticed the deer sitting by some gravestones.
He didn't think much of it. Cygan had seen deer roaming the grounds many times before.
But the next day, he saw the deer sitting in the same spot.
And then again on the following day.
He figured someone must be leaving food there for the animal. Cygan grabbed his camera and got out of the truck to snap a couple of photos.
"As I was doing it, [the deer] was walking toward me," Cygan told The Buffalo News. "He was blocking my vision from something."
Cygan noticed a large granite urn behind the deer, "and a little head was peeking out."
A Canada goose had built a nest in the urn.
To Cygan, the deer appeared to be standing guard, protecting the goose and her eggs.
"I can't explain it," he said. "They have no common bond whatsoever. ... Is he protecting the nest? I don't know. But that's what it seemed like."
Now, geese and deer are not unusual in the historic cemetery. Forest Lawn had hired Cygan, of the company Borders on Patrol, to keep Canada geese -- and their droppings -- from overrunning the cemetery. His dogs, bred to be herders, help keep the birds moving along. But some like the serene spot, and every spring, several have been known to nest in urns.
For years, many visitors, particularly runners, have noticed at least two docile deer in the cemetery.
But wildlife experts are puzzled over why these two animals seem to have formed an interspecial bond.
Normally, Canada geese mate for life, and the male goose stands guard by the nest, said Joel Thomas, wildlife administrator for the SPCA Serving Erie County.
But no male goose has been in sight at this nest.
"The female apparently has no mate," Thomas said. "He would be right there driving other animals and people away. He's absent for some reason. Why the [deer] has taken over is anybody's guess."
Thomas is leery of anthropomorphizing the unusual relationship.
"The easy thing to do would be to Disney-fy the whole thing," he said. "I'm not a big fan of that."
He said different species have been known to help each other. Deer and geese, both grass eaters, do graze together.
"They sort of watch out for each other," he said. "Everyone watches for danger, and they sort of depend on each other."
But for one animal to take the place of another species' mate?
"What's going on in their little minds? We can only guess," Thomas said.
He cautioned against people flocking to the cemetery to see the animals for themselves. White-tailed deer are powerful animals, he warned.
"An unarmed human is no match," Thomas said. "If he's protecting something, let's not annoy him. Let's let him do that."
After a local television news station aired video of the goose and the deer and the Associated Press picked up on the story, Forest Lawn officials were anticipating visitors coming to take a look. They were busy erecting a snow fence to keep visitors a safe distance from the animals. They were also working on setting up a live web cam so that people could observe the animals from their computers.
Joseph Dispenza, president of Forest Lawn, said he hopes people take away a life lesson from the goose and her deer protector.
"For me, it is a clear, present, obvious, unshakable showing that the human condition and wildlife [are] part of our life," Dispenza said. "Spring means love, and life goes on, no matter what. These two little creatures don't know that they're not supposed to care about each other. And they do. Isn't that how we're all supposed to live?"
He says finding each other in a place where people are laid to rest makes sense for the pair.
"Of all the places in the world, I am telling you, the profound, spiritual human peace that ... is what makes cemeteries more than real estate is why it's happening here," he said. "That is not accidental. That's providential." [M.becker Buffalo News]
Alice Brown Knox
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