For Czech Deer, the Cold War Isn't Over

Deer in the Czech Republic still halt where the Iron Curtain used to be.

Though dismantled a quarter-century ago, the Iron Curtain lives on in the minds of many deer, according to a six-year study by researchers at Sumava National Park, at the western edge of the Czech Republic in former Communist Czechoslovakia.

"Deer on the Czech side of the Bohemian Forest wander no farther than where barbed wire used to mark the restricted area along the national border," said Pavel Sustr, a park zoologist who headed the study.

The Bohemian Forest borders directly on the Bavarian Forest along the south-eastern edge of the former West Germany.

As elsewhere along the erstwhile East-West divide, border fortifications sealed off Czechoslovakia from West Germany until the fall of Communist regimes in Europe in 1989.

The deer monitored in the study were fitted with radio collars. Female deer, the researchers believe, pass on territorial boundaries to their young from generation to generation.

In the Bohemian Forest, the territory of a red deer covers about 60 square kilometres on average.

Deer on the German side of what is geographically the same forest behave somewhat differently. "Only the females generally remain on the German side," said Marco Heurig, a wildlife researcher at Bavarian Forest National Park.

Topography is part of the reason for this, said Heurig, pointing out that a low mountain ridge runs between the Czech Republic and Germany. And hunting resumed on the Czech side several years ago.

"For reasons of safety, the females prefer to stay with their offspring in the national park on the German side," he said.

The males, however, are border crossers. "Young males, in particular, roam many kilometres across the formerly fortified border in search of females," Heurig remarked.

About 20 deer a year are fitted with radio transmitters in Bavarian Forest National Park. More than 100 have been monitored so far.