Last week, on Friday November 9, 2018, the Virginia Living Museum’s 18 year old White-Tailed Deer doe passed away due to complications of old age. This deer, fondly known as Erica to the animal care staff, came to the VLM around 2000. Erica was an orphaned fawn that came to us from a rehabber in Franklin, VA. Because she was imprinted on humans, she could not be released into the wild. When she first came into our facility, she was eating regular deer food, but also was still on a bottle a couple of times a day to help with the transition to her life here at the Museum as an ambassador for her wild counterparts. She quickly became a favorite amongst the staff members and would often be seen following her caretakers around the deer exhibit. At the time of her arrival, the deer were located in a pasture on the old nature trail that the Museum had before the event of the new building in 2004. The old pasture was at about the location of where the Wild Side Cafe is located these days. When the new bigger building was constructed, the deer were moved to the pasture where the turkeys currently roam. Erica had an older doe that was her companion for many years and we used to call her companion “Grandma” because she was like a grandmother to young Erica. After Erica and Grandma moved to the new pasture, the Museum acquired some more non-releasable deer from another facility. When those deer happened to arrive, two of the does were pregnant and had a couple of fawns who remained in our collection for many years. The deer herd was quite large at that time, but as the deer got older and aged, many passed away from various causes, mostly all age related deaths. Erica found herself to be the last remaining deer over this past summer. Fortunately, even though she didn’t have deer companions, she was content with the companionship of her human caretakers. During this period of time, she received much attention and love from all of us who took care of her in her old age. She loved to be brushed on a daily basis and got many treats and shoulder scratches from us keepers. Her favorite treats were blueberry and strawberry nutrigrain bars given in limited quantities, as well as a type of food called sweet goat feed, a grain and corn mixture covered with molasses and brown sugar. One of the volunteers who helped us out for years compared sweet goat feed to looking like caramel corn. She was also fond of the cracked corn that we sometimes feed to the turkeys. When we would go out into the deer pasture, Erica would follow us around and chew on our shirts and pants like a goat. It was her way of looking for attention and grooming her fellow human herd members.
I was her main caretaker, so she was quite bonded with me. On her last day with us, I was able to spend some quality time with her as she rested under the gazebo in the pasture. The day was a little rainy, but we were dry underneath the gazebo in our soft, clean hay and straw. The keepers who were working that day came over to spend some time with this beloved member of our animal collection. As the rain gently fell, and I drank my hot green tea, Erica rested her beautiful face on my lap, loved and warmed and cuddled, until she fell asleep for the last time.
At some point in the future, the Museum hopes to become a home for other non-releasable white-tailed deer ambassadors if they become available. As such, it may take awhile for non-releasable animals to become available for our facility. Since the Museum’s mission is to take in injured/orphaned/non-releasable animals, when deer in need of rescue become available in the future, the Museum will be happy to give them a home if they meet specific criteria regarding state laws and the ability to thrive in our habitat.