About once a year I get awoken at the crack of dawn by the most spectacular howling outside my bedroom window. This horrific, terrified noise comes from a muntjac deer who has got itself trapped in railings on neighbouring property.
These tiny deer, about the size of a labrador retriever, have colonised much of Reading over recent decades and are often seen in the Old Cemetery. Although they are not native to the UK, they are charming, beautiful and shy creatures one usually only notices as a rustling in the corner of an eye. They are also known as barking deer because of the yelping they make during mating season.
But the ones that live in Katesgrove are either irretrievably stupid or just get unexpectedly fat, because they often try to squeeze through nearby railings, get stuck, panic and start yowling like a wounded dog. And they always do it at first light in spring or summer.
The first time this happened, the trapped (female) deer was accompanied by her hysterical untrapped mate who skipped around me barking furiously as I tried to get her free. Eventually I decided I had to deal with him first, since in his extremis he was trying to jump an eight foot fence and failing each time with a sickening crunch. After I ushered him off into open ground, I returned to Mrs. Muntjac, who was wedged between railings at her waist. The metal railings had cut into her as she struggled, and she was bleeding. The railings were too thick to bend safely, so I slathered the railings, her waist and hind quarters in vegetable oil and pulled her hind legs out to their fullest extent so her haunches became thinner, and with a lot of screaming (from her) and some twisting, she got through and bounded off. I could hear the two deer barking after each other the rest of the morning.
The most recent episode this week, a young deer (pictured) got trapped coming in the other direction, so although I managed to cover her waist and the palings in vegetable oil again, I couldn’t manipulate her hind legs, and wasn’t keen on getting bitten by attempting the same at her front end. The animal writhed so hysterically in terror that she managed to get herself free; perhaps the oil helped a little.
I have had to invest in a monster pot of vegetable oil (it needs to be edible because the deer will probably lick it off themselves afterwards) for the single purpose of freeing muntjacs, although I might turn to frying them one of these days.