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The Little Deer That Could

Welcome to The Nest! My name is Robin Sutker, and I am the Bird and Mammal Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. I oversee all of the Museum’s birds, mammals, and land invertebrates (not your typical combination, I know), and through this blog I hope to share some of the little heard stories with you. Birds, mammals, and even invertebrates can make nests – hence the new blog name! I have been working with wildlife since 2007 and with Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) zoos since 2009. But more on that later…

For my first post, I want to share the story of the little deer that could, one of the first animals I worked closely with at the VLM. We introduced her to you on Facebook Live on March 22, 2020 as part of the Museum’s online Natural Education programming. Thinking back to August 2019, when I first started working at the VLM, and the newest member of the deer herd joined us a few weeks later. Here is her story.

"Artemis" the white-tailed deer fawn at the Virginia Living Museum

 

“Artemis” upon arrival at the VLM in August 2019. Her future deer companion’s namesake and Greek mythology character, Orion, had a hunting partner named Artemis; the irony of the names was not lost on keepers. Her naming was also a nod to the VLM’s long running Planetarium and the two constellations that the deer now shared their names with!

In August of 2019, a white-tailed deer fawn arrived at the Virginia Living Museum. At approximately two months of age, she was a rescued orphan who was medically compromised, having already fought off a tick-borne infection at her young age. She was rehabilitated by a local white-tailed deer specialist, and transferred to the Museum with the approval of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and the Wildlife Center of Virginia – both of which oversee the placement of non-releasable wildlife in the state. White-tailed deer are carefully managed at a state level due to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a fatal neurological disease that is highly contagious in white-tailed deer and their close relatives. The Virginia Living Museum works closely with the VDGIF and the Wildlife Center to prevent further transmission and spread of CWD outside of its current boundaries.

 

Now a resident of the VLM, “Artemis” began the process of getting to know her surroundings and her keepers.

“Artemis,” as she was named by keepers, appeared bright and healthy upon her arrival at the Museum but succumbed to colic a few days after arriving at the VLM. Colic (a term used to describe abdominal pain in hoofstock) can be caused by a variety of factors, including pre-existing illness or stress. While she was initially nursing well from a bottle she started to refuse formula, which is extremely dangerous for a young mammal. At only twelve pounds, she was battling the second fight for her life. Keepers and veterinary staff were providing round the clock care, acting as both companionship and medical support for “Artemis.”

She slowly began regaining her strength, and soon was eating both formula and solid foods. It seemed as though nothing could stop her! At approximately four months of age, “Artemis” was deemed strong and healthy enough to be transferred to her permanent home – a barn adjacent to the VLM’s white-tailed deer exhibit. She was confident enough to spend the nights by herself and days in a back paddock frolicking with her dedicated keepers. However, for unknown reasons her colic returned in mid-November, and the once lively fawn was unable to stand on her own.

The first day at the back paddock was spent running and exploring, and at long last stretching her little legs. Little did we know at the time, she would be back inside fighting for her life within a month.

“Artemis” was hospitalized the week of Thanksgiving, with another suspected bout of colic, at the Museum’s veterinary department. She was given intravenous fluids, antibiotics, pain medication, and gastro-protectants. Animal care staff iced her hooves to reduce the risk of laminitis (inflammation and break down of tissue in the hooves) and performed physical therapy to help her maintain her muscle mass and mobility.

Once back in the VLM hospital, “Artemis” had an IV line placed, and here her blood pressure was being taken. She was unable to stand on her own and listless.

For a week “Artemis” made steady progress and was soon able to stand on her own, to the relief of the entire Museum who now rallied behind her. She was harness trained and taken on increasingly long walks to improve her muscle tone and strength. She spent another three weeks under careful observation as her appetite and behavior continued to return to normal.

 

As she gained strength, “Artemis” was set up in the Bird and Mammal Curator’s office during the day. This allowed her to stretch her legs, see new things, and enjoy social time outside of her main recovery area.

As if it was a scene from the movie Groundhog’s Day, “Artemis” was again ready to move back to her barn and begin 2020 in the deer exhibit. “Artemis” was introduced to the Museum’s three turkeys in the large main deer exhibit, to begin acclimating to the space. After the proved that she was able to safely transfer on and off exhibit with the turkeys and stay in the barn overnight by herself, introductions began with the Museum’s one year old buck, “Orion.” The two white-tails were first “howdy” introduced, which means they were first given visual but no physical access, followed by visual and physical access through a shared fence line. Both “Artemis” and “Orion” were showing positive behaviors, so the gates were opened for them to share the back paddock, transfer space, and the entire front exhibit! The Museum’s veterinarian and Bird and Mammal Curator were there in case anything didn’t go as planned, but it was clear they would get along well. There was sniffing, mutual-grooming, and grazing almost immediately, and no negative behaviors like head-butting or open mouth breathing (both potential indicators of stress) were observed.

 

 

“Artemis” (right) and “Orion” (left) enjoying spending time with each other, along with myself and the keepers, on exhibit

The Animal Welfare and Conservation Department is proud to say that “Artemis” is thriving on exhibit, and displaying appropriate behaviors for her age. She is exploring the entire exhibit with “Orion” and the three turkeys, while always making time to play. She is eating well and has no medical concerns at this time. As “Orion” was neutered, they will not breed, but the pair will instead be lifelong companions. The Museum will continue to house and care for non-releasable deer to the VLM’s herd as deemed appropriate by the VDGIF and The Wildlife Center. We can’t wait for you to come back and say hi to “Artemis” and “Orion!”

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