Born to Die

Zombie apocalypse and vampire fiction not withstanding, life has a beginning and an end

By Rob Breeding

We’re all allotted a limited number of trips around the Sun.

Zombie apocalypse and vampire fiction not withstanding, life has a beginning and an end. The beginning is rather joyous; the end, not so much. We’re fond of life, fear death, and usually don’t care to be reminded of some of the more brutal aspects of the “circle of life” drama playing out around us.

Case in point: a video of a fox preying on a fawn popped up on my social media feed the other day. The fawn was doing what fawns do, hiding motionless in tall grass. We learned how this works in grade school. During the first few weeks of life, wild ungulates are often left alone like this, the mother only returning to nurse. The fawns are nearly scentless and difficult for predators to detect, unless they see the mother when it’s tending to the baby.

Eventually a young deer develops the strength to run and joins its mother in the day-to-day business of being a deer.

It’s a pretty effective survival strategy, but doesn’t always work.

In this instance, the fawn was hidden below the picture window of a cabin in the woods. This allowed the cabin’s residents to record the drama unfolding outside. The video shows the fox slowly stalking, then pouncing on the fawn.

That’s when the bleating, both inside and outside the house, began. Outside it was the distressed fawn. Inside, the bleating was the videographer, who along with other off-camera humans, started yelling and pounding on the picture window.

The fox, already a bit tentative I suppose for taking on prey almost equal in size, was startled by the uproar, released the fawn and ran off. Moments later a doe appeared out of the woods and junior, ruffled up a bit but otherwise apparently OK, trotted off behind her.

I recall cheers erupting. The universe had been saved.

There are a couple of curious elements to this drama, the first being why didn’t the folks start pounding on the picture window “before” the fox pounced? I can understand the impulse to want to save a cute, cuddly fawn. If there’s a deer hunter so hardened their heart can’t be softened at least a touch by the sight of a fawn teetering on spindly legs, I don’t want to meet them. But surely, even if the fawn survived the assault unscathed, it would have been better off if the fox hadn’t pounced at all.

And there’s this: somewhere off camera there’s a den of fox kits wondering when mom or dad will return with dinner. Someone mentioned this in the comments, which were mostly versions of “I’m so happy that baby survived.” But right in the middle of the hopefest, someone expressed sympathy for the predator that missed out on a perfectly good meal.

Have you ever seen a baby fox? They’re at least as cute as a fawn. And a starving baby fox is every bit as tragic as a fawn killed by a predator. Actually, more so. That’s the real circle of life. Prey animals eat plants. Predators eat the plant eaters. They all have cute babies.

Most babies are born to die, young. That’s when they’re vulnerable, and vulnerability minimizes the energy investment a predator makes in acquiring calories. The spring fawn drop is about the only time of year a fox is going to target deer. An adult doe, with her sharp hooves, is more than a match for any fox.

It’s normal to want to intervene in nature, but we all — fawns, foxes, humans — eventually return to the earth. Most humans kill a few deer, or their domestic equivalents, along the way. The cheering and all the rest is really just for show.

Still, it’s the show that often makes the journey worth the trip.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.