It was brought to my attention today that colleagues in the neighboring county had done a story that was published in the Tri-Valley Herald with a lovely photo of a deer-crossing sign and cars passing by at night. Trouble is, some undoubtedly pubescent prankster had drawn an extra hind leg on the buck, and a bunch of readers called to complain that our paper was indecent.
The photo has been excised from all of our Web sites, I’m told, so I’ve posted it an the end of this entry. If you take offense at such things, don’t scroll to the bottom. I warned you, so don’t do something you’ll feel obligated to complain about later.
This brings to mind the one time I ever received death threats for my work.
The story by Dennis Cuff of the Contra Costa Times deals with the danger of fast-moving vehicles running into fast-moving deer.
While routinely fatal for the deer, such car vs. deer collisions also kill 150 American motorists a year, injure 29,000 and cause $1.5 worth of vehicle damage. The story notes that while Sierra deer migrate, deer don’t need to search for food or water in the East Bay and tend to stay in one place year-round. Often, that place is near busy roadways and you’ve gotta keep an eye out for them.
About a decade ago, I sought to call attention to this problem on Long Island, where I wrote environmental stories for a short-lived alternative weekly called the Long Island Voice.
I’d provide a link to the story, but the funny thing about defunct publications is that servers get ripped out, hard drives are trashed and they just disappear, or so it seems after 20 minutes of Googling.
The cover featured Bambi with a bull’s-eye and the conceit of the story was that deer were dangerous, could not be trusted and ought to be exterminated. Their biggest crime, of course, was running in front of Volvos in the Hamptons, where Kim Basinger and other deer lovers wrote letters to state game officials urging them to “stop the killing” after hunters were allowed to thin the population off-season.
It seemed extraordinary to me that an island so urbanized would even have wildlife. Months later, my then-elementary-aged son and I saw a pair of deer in our back yard in a neighborhood that was bounded by busy streets and the Long Island Sound.
But there they were, and thriving in such numbers that it seemed necessary to get rid of them. Animal lovers on Fire Island (it was even more extraordinary that they survived on that skinny strip of sand) flew in a wildlife biologist from Montana who attempted to dart the deer with Norplant so the state would keep the hunters at bay.
My tounge-in-cheek vilification (mixed in with some very pertinent and useful information, I must point out) of these shy, gentle creatures didn’t go over with some of the Voice’s readers, however. One letter writer suggested that I had no right to live, and implied that someone might soon deprive me of same.
Hopefully, readers of Cuff’s story will forgive the photographers and editors for not noticing that the extra leg might be a lewd bit of artwork. If the artist even reads newspapers (I would expect not), he (and it surely must be a boy) must be terribly proud of himself after seeing the joke elevated into the mass media.
This seems too often what gets journalists into trouble. Not the big stuff. I’ve disseminated the anti-Semitic boasts of terrorists, I’ve written about murderers and Columbian drug mules. When to readers threaten to kill me? When I write about car-deer collisions.