Ethics Hero, Non-Human Division: The Guardian Deer of Forest Lawn

Bambi's mother would understand.

Animal ethics are not a major topic here, in part because there is continuing scientific controversy over whether animals are capable of ethical impulses. The pros seem to have the upper hand over the cons, however, due to observations of altruistic conduct exhibited by primates in the wild and other evidence. How a wild deer, at last report standing guard over a widowed goose and her brood at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY, fits into the debate is for others to decide, but it’s an inspiring tale.

A mother goose has lost her mate (geese bond for life, it seems) and now must tend to her nest in the cemetery, which is home to many varieties of wildlife.  She spends the day sheltering her eggs inside an empty urn. The job of her deceased mate was to guard the home, and discourage predators, which, as you know if you have ever had a run-in with a goose (as I have), he would have been very capable of doing. Without a guardian, the prospects for the future goslings are not good

An adult deer, however, has come to the rescue and had assumed the role of protector. Nobody knows how or why this happened, as deer, as far as we know, do not speak Goose, and vice-versa. Yet naturalists reluctantly agree that the deer understands the plight of the nesting mother, and has decided to assist. It now spends its days near the urn acting as Guardian of the Goose Eggs. If a passerby approaches the urn,  the deer stands and places itself between the interloper and the nest.  The deer was once observed taking an aggressive stance  to fend off a barking dog who came too close to Mother Goose.

Maternal instincts (regrettably the deer is a female, preventing me from making a rare, perfectly constructed “The Buck Stops Here” joke), pity, selflessness, generosity, kindness, even boredom—after all, what else does the deer have to do?—may motivate this unusual conduct; it is impossible to tell, since like the goose, we don’t speak Deer. Nevertheless, it looks awfully ethical to me, and so Ethics Alarms is pleased to announce its first four-legged Ethics Hero.

(If the deer eats the eggs, please let me know.)

2 thoughts on “Ethics Hero, Non-Human Division: The Guardian Deer of Forest Lawn

  1. As a pet owner and wildlife lover, I truly believe the “lower forms” of mammals (at least) are sentient beings. Too many examples of problem-solving, expressed emotion, kindness, and now, ethics, for one to believe otherwise.

    Not a vegetarian yet, but soon…

    • I think we shortchange animals’ ability to understand situations.

      I have a somewhat long personal anecdote that involves a feral cat taking care of a sickly and unprepared housecat kitten during a Maryland winter. When the kitten was trapped and brought inside, the feral searched for her charge by the extremely unferal activity of climbing on people’s decks and peering into windows. After the feral and kitten saw each other through one window for a little bit, the feral went back to its behavior prior to taking care of the kitten.

      The numerous animals that foster other animals is more evidence of this. Cat’s fostering squirrels. Dog’s fostering jungle cats.

      Crows can create new tools and can understand human facial expressions, why can’t a deer protect some goose eggs?

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