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Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 17:18 UK
Autumnwatch: a fight to the death

red deer stag
There are up to 250 red deer in Tatton Park

A fight to the death between red deer stags on television has revealed the brutality of the Autumn rut, a natural drama currently being played out in Tatton Park.

Thanks to BBC Autumnwatch, nature lovers have have been able to follow the rivalries in a wild red deer herd on the Scottish island of Rum during the stags' seasonal struggle to breed with females.

a dead stag
Titus was killed in a fight to the death

However, viewers of the programme on Friday, 09 October saw two of the dominant males, Percy and Titus, locked in mortal combat until one of them, Titus, was sadly killed.

Tatton Park near Knutsford is home to up to 500 red and fallow deer and has seen a sudden increase in visitors eager to see the spectacular rut in action.

But how likely are they to see a fight to the death? Darren Morris, a park ranger at Tatton for 22 years, said that while deaths do occur, it is unusual.

"It has happened when we've had fatalities but it's not that common," he said. "It happens maybe once a year."

"What usually happens is that, we'll find one of the males will go off and sit in a bog of rushes because, basically, he's knackered, or because he's been injured in a fight. And on occasions, those injuries can be fatal."

Breeding

Tatton Park is one of the best places to see the spectacular Autumn rut which begins at the end of September.

Darren Morris, park ranger at Tatton
It's a very exciting time at the park. We've definitely seen a lot more visitors since Autumnwatch began.
Darren Morris, Tatton Park ranger

There are about 30 mature male stags in Tatton Park, each with a harem of up to five females.

Their main threat comes from groups of younger males on the edge of the group who try to breed with females when the dominant male is occupied.

As Darren explains, fighting between males is usually a last resort. "The rut is meant to be mainly for show really," he said.

"First of all, the red deer do this kind of low groaning to signal their presence. They'll also roll in these wallows which they've just urinated in to cover themselves in scent.

"Then there's a visual side in which they'll cover their antlers in grass, to make themselves look bigger. Finally, they'll do this parallel walking, just calling at each other, and sizing each other up.

"All this happens before they actually lock antlers. Because the last thing they want to do is fight."

'Lucky'

Visitors to the parkland will be able to witness the deer rut throughout the autumn, until the end of November.

"It's a very exciting time at the park," said Darren. "Funnily enough, we've definitely seen a lot more visitors since the Autumnwatch programme began."

"Visitors will definitely hear [the stags] calling because it's a time of year when they're really vocal."

"The main thing they'll see is the red stags trying to keep a harem of females and, if they're lucky, they could see males fighting."

Tatton Park is open from Tuesday to Sunday 11am-5pm (last entry 4pm) from 5th October onwards. Park entry £4.50 per car.




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