The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden has been home to white-tailed deer since its founding in 1902. Currently, the Zoo’s Oklahoma Trails habitat is home to three female deer; Ruby, 16, Cher, 15 and Chaz, 12. At the end of July 2020, the Zoo welcomed two, six-week-old deer fawns, Tiva and Tula. Since their arrival, the sisters have spent time growing together in one of the Zoo’s okapi habitats. Now, at seven months old, Tiva and Tula, are ready to join the adult deer herd.
Introducing new animals into an established herd, or even putting two individuals together for the first time, can be a nerve-racking experience. Because of the unknowns, the process of introducing animals is meticulously planned out by caretakers, with introductions moving only as quickly as the animals’ comfortability levels allow. Although we cannot be certain what will happen when individual animals are introduced to one another, caretakers carefully monitor the initial interactions and make informed decisions based on the behaviors that are observed.
To begin the introductions, temporary fencing was placed in the Zoo’s Oklahoma Trail deer habitat to split the habitat into two separate spaces, providing Tiva and Tula with a safe place to get acclimated to their new home and herd mates. This part of the process is referred to as a “howdy”. Throughout the howdy stage, the fawns and adult deer are able to see, smell and hear each other through a protective barrier. Emphasizing safety and ensuring comfortability, this method is utilized regularly with many different animal species at the Zoo.
As caretakers, the howdy process helps us to identify positive interactions among the deer. The positive behaviors we hope to see includes calm body postures, mutual greeting behavior, such as sniffing and grooming; and signs of the deer spending time in close proximity of one another, eating or resting.
Once we’ve witnessed consistent positive behavior from all individuals, we will then proceed with the next step of the introduction. This step grants the deer an opportunity to share space without protective fencing. During this stage, caretakers will be present to observe and step in, if necessary.
When it is evident that Tiva, Tula, Ruby, Cher and Chaz are comfortable in one another’s company, the howdy fencing will be removed and they will become one, unified herd. In the meantime, we’ll continue to share updates on the progress through the Zoo’s social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
- Jessica Quinnett, hoofstock caretaker