Almost a quarter of a century after the fall of the Iron Curtain, some patterns of behaviour have continued as if the event never took place. A study of deer in the Šumava National Park shows that populations on both the Czech and German sides of the former barrier behave as if it is still there.
The Šumava National Park and its Bavarian counterpart straddle the Czech-German border in what is the biggest forest and protected wildlife zone in Central Europe. So when the former Communist era iron curtain dividing east and west was gradually dismantled after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 it could have been expected that wildlife would have quickly got used to the fact and started to move in both directions across the former barrier.
But a six year study of deer movements in Šumava for the park management shows the Czech population are overwhelmingly sticking to their traditional side and so are their Bavarian counterparts.
Pavel Šustr was in charge of the survey using tags on the animals which could be tracked at all times. I asked him how surprised he was by the results. “It is surprising but from the start we found that the behavior of deer is very traditional and they are probably very conservative and they are repeating movements which is probably the source of their respect for a border which is not there now.”
But early on there were signs that there were a few more adventurous deer that broke with tradition. “We have from the start one male deer that immediately after the melting of the snow crosses the border from the Czech side to Bavaria to find the same meadow every year on the Bavarian side. We knew about this exception from the start. There was also later a male deer which was caught when it was one year old. He was not respecting all the rules we found before because he was moving in different areas on both the Czech and Bavarian sides of the border. ”
Over time, Šustr believes that the Iron Curtain mentality will disappear and more deer will start to wander freely between the two countries. Normally their territory covers up to 60 square kilometers.
In the meantime the research has produced perhaps more tangible results, highlighting for instance which habitats deer prefer and the fact that they can exist without problems where new trees are growing in the forest.