Ruminant ungulates are among the most amazing species that evolution has produced. Their multi-chambered stomachs give them an ability to turn what is essentially indigestible into energy. They are specialists in their diet, though most eat multiple species of plant, they are bound to eat plant matter. Their fortunes are dictated by the sun, the soil, and the rain. In abundant lands, all they must do is eat, eat and keep an eye or an ear open for the predators.
Their place in nature is meat on the hoof and pervasive predators of plants. The white-tailed deer predates most of its predators in its ecosystems. The dire wolf, the Armbruster’s wolf, the Edward’s wolf, the coyote, and the gray wolf all were new on the land when the white-tails first blew their warning calls at them. Same with the bobcat and the cougar and the Smilodon and the American lion. In most of their range, a white-tail will never smell the faintest scent of a wolf or cougar. The coyote and the bobcat and the odd predatory black bear take their toll, as does the human nimrod.
Humankind knew this continent only in the very recent past. Paleolithic Siberian hunters were the first to take their toll upon the deer. They were later replaced with Europeans and then the whole Anglo-American civilization came to the fore. It hunted the white-tailed deer nearly to extinction. Hides and meat, all of which could be sold the the highest bidder.
But this civilization, the one that almost did the species in, turned out to be its greatest benefactor. Hunting peoples were cleared off. The age of plastics made leather from hides mostly irrelevant for most household use. Leisure hunters with money began to push for deer conservation and deer reintroduction.
And so the land was turned into this great deer thicket. The oak woods dropped the acorns, and acorns are fine tack for the deer, though their palate evolved in woods dominated with the great American chestnut. It was felled by an invasive blight, so the deer know the acorn from the white and red oak as its primary food to fatten in the autumn and to corn them through the frigid days of winter.
Sportsmen plant food plots for them. They buy food at the feed store to feed them, which comes in many different brands and innovations.
Farms are being abandoned left and right. And the native lands are returning to thickets. These thickets are cut with the highways of deer. Vast herds of bison and elk are not making their cut upon the same land, so the thickets grow in thick and heavy. The tunnel trails through the jungles cannot accommodate a fully-grown human without the overgrowing branches holding back your wanderings.
The white-tailed deer is the enduring one, relishing the ruins of its North American kingdom, which has, for the moment, been perfected for its existence. So they go with ruminant stomachs, turning the sunlight and carbon dioxide into muscle and fat.
They endure. And I suspect they will outlast us when it all comes crashing down as ecology’s laws catch up to us.