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Okotoks three-legged buck still doing well two years later

Wildlife biologist Dr. Susan Lingle shares her thoughts on how, for over two years now, a male mule deer has been thriving with only three legs.

A familiar buck made an appearance in Okotoks recently.

Okotoks' resident three-legged mule deer first appeared in a Western Wheel article dated July 15, 2022, with photos submitted by Cimarron resident Sharon Peters. In the article, Peters stated that the deer's leg had been dangling for some time before falling off, and that the injury likely resulted from a car accident.

Two years later, the deer has once again appeared near the Cimarron neighbourhood, looking better than ever. He has visibly gained weight, and his antlers — one of which was visibly deformed in the 2022 photos — now appear normal.

Dr. Susan Lingle, a University of Winnipeg wildlife biologist and expert on deer populations in southern Alberta, said there are numerous possible factors that have allowed him to thrive, including the safety of Okotoks' urban environment and the nature of the injury.

"They can move around reasonably well with the hind leg," said Lingle. "When you're missing a foreleg, it's a lot more challenging, as I guess anyone with a three-legged dog knows."

Based on antler size, Lingle says that the buck is likely about three to four years old. She added that, aside from the missing limb, he looks relatively healthy and typical for a young mule deer.

"The males will fatten up as July and August come around. The females take a little longer because they're nursing their fawns," she said.

According to Lingle, male mule deer typically gather and form "bachelor groups" at this time of year — the limping buck, which was spotted alone, could possibly face social challenges due to his impediment.

"I doubt he'd be ostracized, but [his slow movement] might make it difficult for him to keep up," she said. "Animals tend to move at a certain pace, and that actually contributes a bit to the separation between female groups and male groups, because they're moving and feeding at a different pace.

"It's possible his moving at a different pace would isolate him a little bit, but that's utter speculation."

According to Lingle, mule deer fend off predators by standing their ground in a group. With predators such as coyotes and cougars known to frequent Okotoks, coupled with the potential for motor vehicle collisions, the three-legged deer's continued survival is impressive.

"I don't know if he's just avoiding areas with coyotes, because he certainly can't be moving as quickly as he would have previously been," said Lingle. "I doubt there's the same predator risk as if he was living at Sheep River itself, kind of like in a true wilderness area."

With Okotoks offering a wide selection of plants for deer to graze on, the many deer that call the town home have no shortage of food. In the case of the three-legged buck, the abundance of food certainly works in his favour — and he could be getting some extra help too.

"I think often people tend to be pretty tempted to feed an animal that they see as vulnerable like that," she said. "Of course I don't know whether or not that's the case, but it seems as though it could be."

While the urban environment of Okotoks provides some advantages, there's no doubt that the buck's continued survival over the years defies the odds.

"It's interesting to see how resilient these animals are," said Lingle. 

Amir Said

About the Author: Amir Said

Amir Said is a reporter and photographer with the Western Wheel covering local news in Okotoks and Foothills County. For story tips or questions about his articles, Amir can be reached at [email protected].
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