Former Iron Curtain Still Barrier For Deer

April 23, 2014

By KAREL JANICEK | Associated Press

PRAGUE (AP) — The Iron Curtain was traced by an electrified barbed-wire fence that isolated the communist world from the West.

It was an impenetrable Cold War barrier, and for some inhabitants of the Czech Republic it still is.

Deer still balk at crossing the border with Germany even though the physical fence came down a quarter century ago, new studies show.

Czechoslovakia, where the communists took power in 1948, had three parallel electrified fences, patrolled by heavily armed guards. Nearly 500 people were killed when they attempted to escape communism.

Deer were also victims of the barrier. A seven-year study in the Czech Republic's Sumava National Park showed that the original Iron Curtain line still deters one species of them, red deer, from crossing.

“It was fascinating to realize for the first time that anything like that is possible,” said Pavel Sustr, a biologist who led the Czech project. Scientists conducting research on German territory reached similar conclusions.

The average life expectancy for deer is 15 years and none living now would have encountered the barrier.

“But the border still plays a role for them and separates the two populations,” Sustr said. He said the research showed the animals stick to traditional life patterns, returning every year to the same places.

“Fawns follow mothers for the first year of their life and learn from them where to go,” Sustr said.

Wildlife officials recorded the movement of some 300 Czech and German deer with GPS-equipped collars which sent data to computers.

“I don't think it's a surprising result,” said professor Ludek Bartos of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, who was not involved in the research. “These animals are really conservative.”