ROEDEER RESCUE | Hidden Siberia

Roedeer rescue

In the last days of April ranger Viktor Makashov and I set out by boat to see whether the ice floe at the river mouth had melted and at the same time to see where the herd of ibex had migrated any further. The middle of the river was already clear of ice even where it flowed into the reservoir bay. There was just a crust of ice left along the edges of the bank.

Having stopped at the side of the river we scoured the nearby slopes with our binoculars and enjoyed the silence that was only occasionally broken by the feint whistling sound of the wings of a duck flying past. But then we heard a melodic sound, like the jingle of crystal bells. At first we thought we must have imagined it. What bells could there be a hundred kilometres from the nearest village? But the sound continued. 

Carefully studying the water’s surface we caught sight of a roedeer throwing itself up against the ragged ice edge. The animal had swum over the bay from the ravine they call Volchy (wolfish) and was trying to climb up onto the bank.

The ice was still too thick for the roe to wade through it and yet every time she tried jump up onto the surface she was showered with thousands of splinters of ice. Again and again the roedeer tried to free herself from the trap but then she would fall back into the water so that at times only her antlers remained visible above the surface of the water.

Something had to be done. We decided to rescue her.

There is something interesting about the behaviour of wild animals. When they sense a threat of danger they will do anything possible to avoid it but when they know they can do nothing more, they become calm and meet their fate with dignity. That is how it was on this occasion. On spotting the approaching boat the roedeer beat itself against the ice desperately trying to free itself from entrapment but then became quiet. Even when we were right up alongside it remained still. It simply looked back at us with its huge eyes. The velvet antlers, still covered with a layer of short, spiky fur had begun to bleed in places where the deer had scraped itself against the branches of trees when racing to escape the wolves. 

Carefully taking a grip of the hide I dragged the poor animal into the boat and pressed it to the deck. Victor turned up the engine of the outboard and we passed along the ice-edge and arrived at a gap where there was space to go ashore. All the while, the roedeer lay quietly.

And yet once on the bank, having posed for a farewell photo, she immediately bolted towards the mountains. Having run for a couple of hundred meters she stopped and turned back to look at us, perhaps as a sign of gratitude, perhaps as a display of pride, that she had managed to escape misfortune.

We stood for a few minutes longer and then sat in the boat and set off for home, to the buffer zone. The ice glistened in the sunlight, the first blades of green were pushing through on the slopes, the ducks were busy with their spring mating, and the water sang cheerfully at the river rapids. All was well with the world.


Photography:Andrei Gilbert
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