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Saturday, April 26, 2014

This is fascinating: 25 years later, deer on the Czech/German still avoid the Iron Curtain

The deer who don't know the Cold War is over: animals still fear crossing the electric fences of the Iron Curtain (wiki) 25 years after they were switched off.
  • Seven-year study found red deer on Czech-German border do not cross electrified fence dividing West from communist world taken down in 1991
  • None of current deer population were alive when the barrier was up
  • Czech and German biologists predict behavior will last for generations
The Iron Curtain fell 25 years ago, but it seems that nobody told the deer.

A new study has found that a quarter of a century on, red deer on the border between the Czech Republic and old West Germany still do not cross the divide.

The red deer were tracked via GPS-equipped
 collars that sent data to computers
After tracking 300 deer, researchers said the animals are intent on maintaining the old boundaries.

One of the scientists involved told the BBC the deer are not ideological, "they are just very conservative in their habits."

During the Cold War, electric fences made the Czech-German boundary impossible to pass.

Czechoslovakia, where the Communists took power in 1948, had three parallel electrified fences, patrolled by heavily armed guards.

Nearly 500 people were killed when they attempted to escape. 

This reconstruction in the Sumava National Park
 in the Czech Republic shows the 
Iron Curtain's electrified fence
The researchers followed the movement of the 300 Czech and German deer via GPS-equipped collars, which sent data to computers.

Biologist Pavel Sustr, who led the seven-year project: "It was fascinating to realise for the first time that anything like that is possible," Mr Sustr said. "But the border still plays a role for them and separates the two populations."

He said that was remarkable because the average life expectancy for deer is 15 years and none living now would have encountered the barrier.

Scientists believe that fawns tend to follow mothers for the first year of their lives and develop a pattern in their movements, so the same area remains the habitat for each new generation.

From Daily Mail and BBC, via Tyler Cohen, who refers to the deer's status quo bias:

Status quo bias is a cognitive bias; a preference for the current state of affairs. The current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss. Status quo bias should be distinguished from a rational preference for the status quo ante, as when the current state of affairs is objectively superior to the available alternatives, or when imperfect information is a significant problem. A large body of evidence, however, shows that status quo bias frequently affects human decision-making.

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