Lost and fawned: saving deer from hay harvesters

By Martin Divisek

Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, Jun 24 (efe-epa).- Every year thousands of wild deer are killed by machinery during the hay harvest in the Czech Republic.

Between 50,000 and 60,000 roe deer get caught in mowers when the grass crop is gathered during June.

Experts from the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of South Bohemia, in Ceske Budejovice, and the Czech Agrarian Chamber have teamed up with nature conservationists to save some of these animals.

Teams use drones with thermal imaging cameras to find fawns hiding in the long grass and carry them to safety in the South Bohemia region.

Jakub Polensky, head of the project at the university, said they have been rescuing animals for more than 10 years and used dogs before technology took over in 2016.

“Every young roe deer tries to hide in high grass to become ‘invisible’ which means not to be seen by predators,” he explains.

“It motionlessly cowers until the very last moment and it isn’t able to escape when the reaper approaches and unfortunately this ends with the worst result.”

A team of four to six volunteers can cover an area of 40 hectares, with one person flying the drone and the others ready to retrieve the animals.

They start at 5am before sunrise because “when sun shines on the meadow, the animals can’t be seen clearly on infrared camera,” Polensky says.

The drones can fly for 40 minutes and search around 45 hectares using one battery set.

Every care is taken to reduce contact between humans and the young deer so they are not rejected by their mothers, volunteers all wear gloves and long clothing to prevent a transfer of scents.

“We totally reduce contact with the animal and we put it into a safe surrounding area,” Polensky says.

“Its mother easily finds it using voice or smell. Otherwise there could be danger of it refusing the young roe deer after being touched by human skin.”

The teams spend three weeks covering 15 farms with a total area of 1,250 hectares near Ceske Budejovice, 160km from Prague, and usually rescue about 100 deer.

Most of the rescuees are young roe and fallow deers along with some hares and pheasants.

Older animals can be scared out of the danger area by flying the drone lower to the ground but the younger ones often need to be carried out by hand.

Polensky says when they hide in the long grass they are “nearly invisible” but that the cameras can show the difference in temperature between the animal’s body and the ground.

“We start flying 120 meters over the area and we check it. If we find a warm place, we have to detect how big the animal is,” he adds.

Hay is an important crop and is used as an essential food for cattle breeders.

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