This research paper investigates the literature on the mule deer. It examines the distinctive features noticeable between the mule deer in Northern Colorado and that of Wyoming Platte Valley: the habitat and the seasonal feeding patterns. This literature is based on interviews conducted on farmers and hunters around the Northern Colorado and Platte Ìalley regions of the United States about the differences that exist between the mule deer found in these regions. According to the literature, these differences bear a great significance to the adaptability and survival of the mule deer during the dry seasons. Besides, these differences can be exploited by hunters to determine exactly where to locate a large population of the deer for a hunt. In order to maximize these differences, the literature proposes that the stake holders undertake to protect these natural habitats. Right from the hunters to the conservationists, from the government institutions to the civil society, a concession has to be made that the differential patterns on the life of the mule deer must be preserved at all costs in order to ensure a continuity of our wildlife.
Mule Deer in Northern Colorado and Wyoming Platte Valley
The mule deer are generally browsers that rely on a great variety of plants for their complex nutrition. These include shrubs like the bitterbrush, the mountain mahogany as well as the scrub oak and willow. However, the research indicates there is a distinctive difference between the kinds of plants they eat. For instance, the Rocky Mountain mule deer has been found to feed on as many as 800 different species of plants. Markedly, around 60% of their feeds are of non-woody herbaceous type of plants like the dandelions; 25% made up of shrubs, and a minor 12% made up of grass. Our study sought to find the distinctive characteristics and marked the differences that exist between the mule deer in Northern Colorado and those of Platte Valley in Wyoming, especially the little known difference in their economic exploitation.
A total of 10 students working on their degree projects participated in this study. Although the subject of study was similar for all of us, we were instructed to make the personal observations and to make our own findings.
Materials Used in the Study
The participants were given a variety of clips both from Northern Colorado and Wyoming to view keenly and note the distinctive features. Picking the differences from clips made the basis of our study. I also prepared a questionnaire in a four-page booklet containing a cover page titled A Study of the Mule Deer with the second page outlining the background information leading to my field study. The third page included some general guidelines and statements of assurance to the effect of confidentiality of the information given by respondents. The page four of the booklet contained some numberings up to 10 where the respondents were supposed to record their observations and accompany this with a small explanation.
The participants were given several clips both drawn from Northern Colorado and Wyoming detailing the interaction of the mule deer with the two different habitats. The participants were supposed to each analyze the lifestyles of the mule deer and note the observable differences they could note from the clips. The clips given were of different seasons of the year to help the participants note the seasonal feeding patterns of the mule deer. The participants were then instructed to compare their individual findings with the theoretical literature that exists on this subject. This was to include journals, course books, and a variety of documentaries. Further, each participant was supposed to do a field study and administer a questionnaire as herein attached.
My findings from these clips as well as from the field study were varied and concretely in the agreement with some theoretical knowledge. First of all, I noticed that the mule deer did not consume all the plants within its reach. In some instances, it would deliberately skip the certain plants that looked very fleshy to an eye. Another significant finding was the relative gain and loss of weight with the changing of seasons. For instance, both the Colorado and Wyoming mule deer showed the considerable loss of weight in the clips taken in winter, while they both looked fatter in the clips captured in fall.
An interesting observation was clearly distinct when a predator approached. It was noticeable that in the clips from Colorado, the mule deer sensed danger even before the prey became visible, perhaps, due to their sharp sense of smell. However, from the Wyoming clips the mule deer responded promptly, while the predator was visible nearly several miles away due to a better eye sight. On their height of jumping, the Colorado mule deer was observably a better jumper often challenging the predators through high bushes. Further in my study of these documents, I noticed a difference in their degree of the economic exploitation. The frequency of capturing the Colorado deer was generally much higher than that in Wyoming. Although this did not appear in any research findings, the records of the deer captured over the years agreed with this finding. Besides, there was greater disease prevalence among the Wyoming deer as compared with the Colorado deer.
Noticeably, my research findings confirmed the belief that the mule deer is a very selective feeder with the ability to pick the plants with the highest possible nutritional content during each of the four seasons of the year. For instance, during the period between late spring up to early fall, they feed with succulent leaves of forbs and grasses that are available in plenty and eventually build up their fat reserves, and they usually tremendously gain some extra weight. This pattern changes towards the end of fall when they begin to feed primarily with the leaves and stems of brush species. Finally, when there is little forage available during winter and early spring, the mule deer goes on a starvation diet of twigs and small tree branches which are difficult to digest, and they lack the nutritive value required to maintain them. (Rost and Bailey, 1979)
In order to survive these moments of inadequate nutrition, the mule deer mobilizes its fat reserves to be used for metabolism. In fact, recent studies carried out during these periods of food shortage that often go on for about six months a year indicate that an average adult mule deer may go as far as losing up to 20% of their body weight. This ideally implies that the mule deer’s survival during winter depends majorly on the prevailing weather, body storage reserves for fats and lipids, and the individual ability of each mule consuming its reserves conservatively. This was manifested in changes in their weights with seasons as observed. (Milchunas and Johnson, 1978)
Sense of Hearing, Sight and Smell
As from my research findings, the mule deer species are generally equally equipped with an acute sense of hearing as well as a sense of sight. However, other research also indicates a notable difference in the sense of smell that they majorly use to detect a potential danger. This has more to do with adaptability due to the nature of their habitats. The fact that the deer in the rocky regions of Colorado are more susceptible to carnivore animals that seek to prey on them has made them developing a stronger sense of smell. This enables them to detect danger several miles away. On the other hand, the Wyoming deer has the more developed sense of sight as this enables them to see danger a distance away on the Platte Valleys. (Milchunas and Wallmo,1978)
The Colorado mule deer is a better runner as well as jumper as compared to the Wyoming deer. From the clips, both are actually seen as good runners with the ability to run at an average speed of 50 km an hour on flat valleys of Wyoming, and an average of 63 km an hour on the rocky mountains of Northern Colorado. A study of the running patterns of the mule deer of the Platte Valley in Wyoming found that the speed considerably dropped to around 30 km an hour after only fifteen minutes. By the twenty fifth minute, the speed was paltry 1.5 km an hour. (Milchunas, Wallmo and Johnson,1978) However, the Northern Colorado mule deer seemed more adapted to long distance running. A study conducted on the Northern Colorado mule deer forced to run on the rocky mountains achieved a speed of 65 km per hour in ten minutes and maintained it for much longer period of time of about twenty five minutes. This, however, soon dropped to the speed of 42 km per hour for another twenty minutes. According to the study, the Northern Colorado deer reached the threshold of 1.5 km per hour after about an hour of marathon (Miller, Svejcar and West, 1994).
My findings on the deer’s differential jumping and running capabilities are in the agreement with existing statistics. Generally, the Northern Colorado mule deer requires a longer fencing height to keep it off the farms. A study carried out by McLean showed that the rough country side makes the best for mule deer racers and jumpers. This is due to their long, high bounds that are biologically developed to send them running over the rocks and brush at a much faster speed as could be seen from the clips. Typically, the longest stretch of bounds were made during the downhill movements as well as when leaping across the soil erosion gullies. In his study, McLean measured three jumps on a flat plain and found them to measure 5.9, 6.3, and 7.1 m respectively. On a downhill bound jump on the 8% slope, the measurement obtained was 8.7 m. This typically implies that they would not find any difficulty clearing a fence of up to 2.5 m high. (Pieper, 1994)
In general, the mature mule deer prefers the rocky ridges as sleeping grounds to the flats of Platte Valley. This is because they generally have a better feeling of security from potentially harmful danger that could be approaching. In this regard, studies of their sleeping patterns indicate that the Northern Colorado mule deer enjoys a better sleep. This study involved measuring their hormonal levels of melatonin. According to other study, the Wyoming mule deer has less balanced hormonal levels of melatonin implying irregular or unsatisfying sleep. This did not contradict my findings as well. (Riordan, 1956)
The Platte Valley mule deer are generally of the more economic significance as compared to the Northern Colorado mule deer. In 1991, for instance, a game mammal population of mule deer in Wyoming Valleys was found to be approximately around 51,000 and the harvest that year stood at approximately 10,000. However, in Northern Colorado, where a total population of 59,000 heads was recorded had a total hunter harvest of 8,000 heads. (Riordan, 1956) This was attributed to their relative availability for hunting and the cost of methods applied to hunt them down. The Northern Colorado being relatively rockier poses a greater challenge to the hunters as compared to the flatter Platte Valley. In the light of this, the hunters have to device more technical methods like setting up traps and baits in order to seize the deer. An interview with a local hunter gave a clearer manifest on this difference. According to the farmer, the majority of hunters have turned to the Platte Valleys in the recent past with the Northern Colorado hunting fields remaining almost exclusively for the rich merchants who are able to invest more cash into hunting devices. Indeed, this is a replica of my research findings (Rosenstock, Ballard and deVos, 1999).
The constant encounters between the mule deer in Wyoming with some domestic animals have a bearing. In fact, the Wyoming mule deer are more prone to infectious diseases as compared to the Colorado deer. This is attributed to a considerable amount of competition between the mule deer and the livestock in the valleys, especially in spring and sometimes in early summer. Because of this interaction, the certain diseases like hoof-and-mouth disease are easily transmitted from the livestock to the mule deer or from the deer to livestock. This often brings some economic disadvantages in that once the disease manifests in the wild animals, so an immediate action has to be taken to prevent the infestation of domestic animals. (Pyke, Herrick and Pellant, 2002) In addition, game rangers must also dig deeper into their pockets to avert the possible mass death of wild animals. Recent studies have shown that anthrax is also propagated and massively spread by mule deer. This is because the mule deer is capable of harboring the spores for very long periods awaiting their germination and spread. They also harbor the causative agents of tularemia or rabbit fever thereby transmitting it later to domestic animals. This is quite very distinct from the Northern Colorado mule deer that hardly has any encounters with the domestic animals. (Reed, Woodward and Beck, 1979)
I hope the findings of this research will be very relevant to policy makers concerning the interaction of the game animals and the domestic ones. Furthermore, in the wake of the deadly Chronic Wasting Disease, this calls for measures to be taken to curb the spread of this disease with the abnormal symptoms: general loss of fear in humans, excessive drooling, and the passage of urine more frequently, as well as the consumption of large amounts of water. This is because so far there is no exact cure for this very deadly disease. However, the further research will have to be carried out to determine the cause of this disease and its epidemiology for the effective control.
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