Join 3,425 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


World's Longest Invisible Fence
November 4, 2009 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Twenty years ago this month, the nearly 700 mile border between East and West Germany started to disappear. "The fence is long gone, and the no-man's land where it stood now is part of Europe's biggest nature preserve. The once-deadly border area is alive with songbirds nesting in crumbling watchtowers, foxes hiding in weedy fortifications and animals not seen here for years, such as elk and lynx. But one species is boycotting the reunified animal kingdom: red deer." According to the Bavarian National Forest Park Service, scientists [link in German] have recorded nearly 11,000 GPS locations for 'Ahornia," a red deer who appears to never enter the Czech Republic.
posted by webhund (22 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Herds of them roam both sides of the old NATO-Warsaw Pact border here but mysteriously turn around when they approach it. This although the deer alive today have no memory of the ominous fence.

Ahornia, a doe with a grayish-brown winter coat and a light patch around her tail, was born 18 years after the fence came down. Wildlife biologists who track her and other deer via electronic collars know that she has never ventured beyond the strip where the fence once stood.


That is awesome the way watching, like, a nuclear explosion is awesome. It's like your mind is fighting between being very concerned about what just happened while being amazed at how that works.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:03 PM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Very strange. When I saw the link I thought maybe the deer were just smart- venison is very popular here in Czech and you see loads of hunting blinds here for the shooting of deer in the winter. Quite bizarre that the deer pass on their territorial boundaries over generations.
posted by Gratishades at 2:07 PM on November 4, 2009


Oh, and the German link has many cool words I don't understand- not complaining about the link being in a language I can't understand the strangeness of it makes them savourable; "Rotwildtelemetrie", "Wildtierforschung", "Schnittpunkt".
posted by Gratishades at 2:12 PM on November 4, 2009


I can imagine a couple years in the future, a deer ramming against a tree right in the border, yelling "Tear down this wall! Tear down this wall!"
posted by qvantamon at 2:15 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Only one, a stag named Vincek, crossed into Germany, once a year, but he regularly returned to the Czech side.

What happens in Bavaria, stays in Bavaria.
posted by Kabanos at 2:18 PM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


I wish we could train them not to jump in front of my car too.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:19 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there could be a more conventional explanation, like some sort of chemical present in the border area that deters red deer specifically.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:21 PM on November 4, 2009


Fascinating article, thanks.

"Our data showed that the animals behaved very traditionally," says Mr. Sustr. "The former border was in the minds of the animals."

I have the sneaking suspicion that the researchers are failing to include a possibly important point in their hypotheses -- that it's likely that the fence was built in specific positions that were defensible and easy to maintain, and that the deer are reacting to that same geography, not the fence.

In other words, there was a geographical reason the border and the fence were placed where they were, and that didn't go away when the fence was pulled down.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:21 PM on November 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


I wonder if there could be a more conventional explanation, like some sort of chemical present in the border area that deters red deer specifically.

Perhaps some chemical or electrical signal that marks "danger" to the animal. Were there any power lines laid underneath the border?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2009


My grandfather used to talk about herds of deer crossing specific fence lines to get on/off public hunting land at sundown and sun up. Said there were some places the had just learned to never be during daylight hours.
posted by bastionofsanity at 2:35 PM on November 4, 2009


The article seemed to imply (though it didn't do a great job spelling it out explicitly) that this species of deer is very territorial, and children generally tend to stay within the same territory as their parents. So if their parents never crossed a border due to a giant fence, they never cross it, even in the absence of a fence, because their parents never crossed it.

And it does say that some of the younger males are crossing more and more frequently. Probably this effect won't exist anymore in 10-20 years.
posted by notswedish at 2:46 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


An english article about GPS lynx telemetry from the same research group. It's not the translation of the german article, but it explains the (similar) research setup, and some technical details such as their GPS via text message transmission.
posted by Henrik at 2:48 PM on November 4, 2009


Reminds me of a story my friend told me ...

He was in the Army in the late-80s, assigned to somewhere way out in the woods near the Fulda Gap. Their barracks were right against the fence.

First night with the unit, there's a giant explosion outside. Everyone hustles to get their gear. My friend spots his company captain, who apparently thinks he's Patton, right down to the ivory-handled six-shooters.

"THIS IS IT! THEY'RE COMING OVER THE LINE!" the captain is yelling. First day with the unit, my friend doesn't know which way is up, or if anyone was kidding or not.

They get outside, and as my friend described it, there's "deer jerky" hanging from the trees. A deer had apparently stepped on an East German landmine and had not-so-apparently obliterated a small herd.

The captain was pissed he didn't get to shoot anyone. "Everyone back to bed. Those East German pussies will be here tomorrow, too. And then we'll get 'em!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:06 PM on November 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I wonder if there could be a more conventional explanation, like some sort of chemical present in the border area that deters red deer specifically.

Probably not since female deer never cross but the adolescent males sometimes do. (And then the fawns giggle and say "Oh my God!")
posted by msalt at 3:18 PM on November 4, 2009


I have the sneaking suspicion that the researchers are failing to include a possibly important point in their hypotheses -- that it's likely that the fence was built in specific positions that were defensible and easy to maintain, and that the deer are reacting to that same geography, not the fence.

My memories of when I visited the border zone in 1987 were that it wasn't actually built in any geographically special place at all. It was built along the border line separating the Soviet Occupation Zone from the British, French, and American zones, which were mostly lines drawn on a map, not conforming to local geography or even community boundaries. They really hadn't even planned on Germany being divided along any of these lines when they established the Zones; they were created as military occupation areas for each country after WWII so there wouldn't be any question as to which country's occupying army was in charge in any given region. The idea that Soviet Russia would decide to do what they did hadn't entered into anyone's mind in the late 1940s.

The stretch of border that I visited, which was actually 3 separate stretches, were these razed stretches of land, maybe the width of a football field, with a giant fence running down the middle (actually a couple of fences with space between them, I think), and watchtowers stationed all along it on the Eastern side of the wall. The idea, I think, was that rather than using terrain or other geographical features, they just made it impossible to actually sneak up on the fence by removing anything taller than short grass and putting people in towers 24/7.

Germany is a very densely populated country. If the deer are responding to any cues at all about where to be, it may be that there just aren't roads or people in that border zone compared to other parts of the surrounding countryside and it's just a better place to be.
posted by hippybear at 3:35 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have no knowledge of deer behaviour, but I bought into the theory that if Mom and Dad didn't go past a certain point, then Bambi isn't doing it either. Don't know why I buy into that, but I do.

On a slight tangent, why are deer hunters always going on about their stalking and tracking prowess on those TV shows? Honest question - not snarking. The reason I ask is that the few times I play golf on the local municipal course (not only this time of year - the Rut) I find deer very approachable - including Bucks. Sometimes you have to shoo them off the fairways.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 4:08 PM on November 4, 2009


And yes, that's shoo them. No t at the end there. I don't pack and play.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 4:10 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is all very simple. Deers like many herd animals follow fairly rigid trails. There's fairly simple logic to this, "if trails sustain us do not go off trail." The Cold War forced new trails to be forged, and there simply has not been a good reason to go off the trails.

The idea that they the Cold War is kept alive in the memory of animals is a romantic notion, but do not confuse memory with the instinct to follow the path of least resistance. If during the winter we were to go out there and clear a trail to the Czech side of the border and cover up the existing trails, they'd have no fucking clue. They're dumb deer.
posted by geoff. at 5:10 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ahornia my deer, when you find yourself in the thick of it help yourself to a bit of what is all around you. Silly girl.
posted by tellurian at 6:42 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


On a slight tangent, why are deer hunters always going on about their stalking and tracking prowess on those TV shows?

I don't know the TV shows in question, but if they actually do this I find it strange because as far as I know deer hunting consists of:
  1. climb up into tree stand (or, in Germany, a little house on stilts) at Christ-it's-early in the morning,
  2. freeze ass off until deer walks nearby,
  3. shoot deer with gun or (in the States) compound bow.
Tracking is useful if you don't kill your deer immediately and it runs off, but stalking?
posted by moonbiter at 12:17 AM on November 5, 2009


Years ago I read a story in Sports Illustrated about a long distance runner who would chase deer. It turns out that while they are super fast, they don't have much endurance. So off the deer would go, he's track them and eventually catch up. BAM! The deer would run off again. He'd trudge along ,etc.

Eventually the deer would collapse with exhaustion (and probably, confusion). Especially since the guy would just walk up and pet it, then leave. Probably less cruel to just shoot the damn thing.
posted by msalt at 12:13 PM on November 5, 2009


The BBC Natural World series had a great episode on wildlife in the Green Belt last spring: Iron Curtain: Ribbon of Life. It’s available on DVD as part of the BBC Natural World collection (and mentioned previously).
posted by ahughey at 4:07 AM on November 6, 2009


« Older Please dismantling the Radio(?). your have only sc...  |  Making the Modern World... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments