All the rest of the species we will look at in this summary are mammals, which is the biological family that includes human beings. Deer are also called “ungulates,” which means they have hooves, and they live in relatively large herds. Animals who are hunted by predators tend to live in large herds or communities simply as a hedge against devastation by species who prey upon them. As is the case in all animal species, the most critical functions revolve around survival and reproduction. In the case of deer, females and their babies tend to congregate within an area surrounded by the young adult and adolescent males, who thus patrol the perimeter watching for and responding to threats from predators.
The obvious leader in a deer herd is an adult male who achieves his status in strenuous competition with other adult males to be crowned the “alpha” of the herd. The alpha male receives respect and deference from all the members of the herd and is accorded the privilege of breeding with all the adult females. The alpha male is indeed the “big daddy” of the herd, and his genetic material is passed down to the next generation way out of proportion to that of any other males in the herd. This pattern is another version of the “survival of the fittest.”
The actual process of the competition for alphahood is instructive. It essentially involves a series of head-butting clashes, which depends on the skill of the male deer in using his antlers as a weapon. The competition is seldom fatal to the losers, which ensures a cadre of warriors to ward off attacks by wolves and other predators. Females and their infants, of course, are not well equipped to fight but are more necessary to ensure the herd’s prospects for the next generation. And all the privileges and advantages of the alpha leader are ultimately balanced or outweighed by his responsibility to stand and fight attacking predators, which frequently proves fatal. Queen bees, geese at the head of the V, and alpha male deer all pay a heavy price for their special status. Leadership comes with special privileges and special responsibilities.
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