643. Curaçao Icon: Drought-Resilient Deer

Photo by Ariadne Faries.

Photo by Ariadne Faries.

Scientifically known as Odocoileus virginianus curassavicus, Curaçao’s white-tailed deer is considered an endemic subspecies and believed to be a unique descendant of a deer line introduced to the island by Indian aboriginals some 4,000 years ago. It has adapted itself to the local environment over the course of time and transformed genetically to such an extent that it has become unique to the island.

200 or so Curaçao deer live around Christoffel National Park and represent the largest mammal found on the island.  Unlike goats who will devour anything remotely edible (except for the Laraha!), the Curaçao white-tailed deer is a very fussy eater: they only eat a few plant species – and of these – only parts of the plant. (So the plant doesn’t die as a result of deer grazing, as opposed to goats who pose a serious threat to local flora.)

Though Curaçao’s deer benefit from having no natural predators (except for humans), the biggest threat to their survival comes in the form of dry spells. Unlike their relatives in North America, Curaçao’s deer are not committed to a regular mating season. Unlike their North American counterparts, Curaçao’s deer exhibit extremely opportunistic mating behavior: a wet year triggers feverish reproduction (sometimes several times a year), but a dry spell triggers abstinence… to conserve energy.

Another difference between the Curaçao deer and the North American deer lies in the size of their antlers.  North American bucks grow monumentally large antlers (‘bragging rights’) to establish the order of dominance (i.e. to fertilize the does) But growing large antlers wastes a lot of precious energy, so you won’t find huge antlers on Curaçao’s drought-resilient bucks.

The common descriptor of the species, white-tailed deer, manifests in its purpose. When danger looms, mother does stick their tail up in the air, displaying their white bottom, then produce a sniffing sound as they flee to safety. Their bambis know to look for their mother’s white tail and they follow it, no matter what.

Spotting deer in Curaçao is not an easy task. To increase your chances of deer spotting, hike ‘eau naturel’ (no deodorant), their olfactory system is so well developed that they’ll be able to detect humans from miles away. Scratched-up tree barks [at about 40-80 centimeters] in Christoffel Park might be your best-bet markers [new antlers grow inside a thick layer of skin, the skin dries out when the antlers are completed, and the buck will then search for a ‘cleaning-post’ (= tree bark) to get rid of the skin]

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Source: Caribbean Footprint, original article: Mission: white tail – the quest for Odocoileus virginianus curassavicus by Geologist and Curacao Footprint Foundation Director Leon Pors. Caribbean Footprint is a wonderful site dedicated to the natural and historical heritage of the Caribbean region in general, and Curaçao in particular. Browse their extensive library and enjoy!

About 1000awesomethingsaboutcuracao

I'm Carolina Gomes-Casseres, the creator of 1000 Awesome Things About Curaçao. I live in and love Manhattan, but sometimes miss my first Awesome island...

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