It’s mid May and the Ohio River is high at the Falls of the Ohio. A now warm wind (it was cold yesterday) is driving muddy waves against the shoreline and the willow trees are in their element. Except for me…there is no one else around. Bird life, however, is ever-present and I count many newly arrived species that spent the winter south of the equator. Eastern Kingbirds are establishing their territories and many different birds already have active nests going. A bright blue Indigo Bunting flies into my sight line long enough to be identified before once again hiding from view in the tops of the trees. Because the river is taking up most of the bank, I’m walking on top of the driftwood on the parameter of the willow environment. As I slowly walk along, I move as quietly as possible between the trees. I’m always hopeful of seeing wildlife and although it is mid morning…I get lucky. Something has caught my eye down the beach at the water’s edge and I reach for my camera.
It’s a young Styrobuck and it is nervously checking out the river. The wind is blowing my scent in the opposite direction. This is indeed great luck because this unusual animal is also one of the rarest mammals in this area. Years can go by between sightings and there is always conjecture on whether they still exist here at all. Occasionally, tracks are found which renews hope that they still occupy their original range. I decided that this was too great a photo opportunity to pass up and so I changed my plans for the day. I would follow and record this beautiful and odd animal for as long as I could.
The Styrobuck is one of those hard to classify mammals. Although genetically a deer…it also shares traits with goats and antelopes. I recall getting caught up in the discovery in 1992 of a new large mammal discovered in the Annamite Range bordering Vietnam and Laos. Science calls it a Saola, (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) but it is also more colorfully known as the Asian unicorn. Anyway, its resemblance to an antelope is striking, but technically it is a member of the cow family. Just when it was looking like all the big animals on the planet had been discovered…out trotted the Saola. The mystery of it was amazing! Of course, the indigenous people had known about it for a long time. Once in a while, they would catch one in their snares meant for the other forest animals. Still, it was a great rarity for them as well…a near mythic animal. It was probably tasty too.
The Styrobuck is by necessity a very nervous and wary animal. It is about the size of a small dog and the perfect prey size for many of our predators. It has large eyes and a keenly developed sense of smell. There are also old first hand accounts that also suggest the Styrobuck has a sense of curiosity which can lead to its downfall. Smallish antlers are grown and shed each year after the breeding season in the late autumn. In the spring one to two fawns are born that remain with their mother until the following summer.
The animal I was watching was more than likely born last year and probably newly separated from its mother. To my eye, it did appear that the young Styrobuck was searching for something in the vicinity.
The Styrobuck certainly was concentrating in an area between the river and the margins of the woods. If there were any other members of its species around here…they remained well hidden. Every now and then the young buck would browse on young tree leaves and tender grasses.
My last image of the Styrobuck in the water was taken from a vantage point in the top of a willow tree that I quietly shinnied up. I could feel the wind shifting and sure enough the young buck caught my all too human odor and bolted for parts unknown. I shared my images with the Interpretive Center who were glad to receive them. I hope exposing this one animal won’t lead to a stampede by the public that drives this vulnerable species from our area for good. The Falls of the Ohio is a richer for having this interesting animal call this place home.