Deer, student injuries hit zero at Southern

By Jim Suhr

CARBONDALE, Ill. – On the edge of the dense forest that makes up much of the 20 or so acres of Southern Illinois University’s Thompson Woods, the slogan spray painted on the paved trail seems simple and innocent: “Everything is gonna be alright.”

After puzzling flare-ups between deer and humans at the school over the previous two years, students and staffers finally can consider the graffiti right on.

The 20,000-student university had cause to be edgy until the last week or so, having seen a half dozen people – a mix of students, staff and police – get sent to hospitals after being attacked by deer here. Several other people were threatened but unharmed.

Wildlife specialists said the attacks happened during fawning season, the time from mid-May through June when deer become keenly protective of their fawns.

But fawning season came and went this year with no dustups between humans and the hoofed, and it is anyone’s guess why.

Some suspect things came to a head one day in June of last year when a campus policeman got between a doe and a jogger to prevent another attack and shot the animal when it charged and slightly injured him. The animal was found and euthanized the next day, and the lack of attacks since has fanned speculation that this particular deer was a rogue one responsible for much, if not all, the problems.

Others submit the school’s public-awareness campaign launched in the wake of the 2005 attacks has paid off, persuading folks to watch out for deer, not approach the animals and, if a wild-eyed deer starts bounding their way, run.

“Or maybe deer found out that campus is not a friendly place,” shrugs Rod Sievers, a spokesman for the university. “Who knows what the deer think, but maybe they got the message.”

Or perhaps the calm this fawning season was just luck.

“Who knows?” Sievers says. “Maybe the problem will never raise its head again. Let’s hope.”

Ecologists suspect the attacks could have been a combination of protective motherly instinct, squeezed habitat and, in some cases, a little too much human curiosity.

Wildlife specialists at the school are in the midst of a two-year effort to count the deer, pinpoint how the animals affect the campus’ ecosystem and gauge what locals think of them. Officials have said the study will offer no recommendations on what to do about the animals Sievers called “very thick here.”

Such was the case Thursday, when a reporter, within minutes of entering Thompson Woods, spotted a doe and two fawns. A short distance up the trail, another deer slinked its way through the brush.

Dana Carpenternever saw any of the animals Thursday as she raced her mountain bike down the trial and over the upbeat graffiti on it. The junior says the deer don’t worry her, though she concedes that previous attacks should give her pause for concern.

“I always figure that I’ll be able to explain it to my insurance if I go head over heels on this thing because of a deer,” she smiles.