Dan Rattiner's Stories

Tibetan Herders Help Manage Hamptons Deer Problem

No one seems to have a good plan on what to do with the excessively large number of deer that roam free in the Hamptons. Having hunters shoot them is opposed by back-to-nature groups. Having federal marksmen come and shoot them is opposed by back-to-nature groups, hunters and child welfare groups. Putting out food in feeding stations for them is opposed by motorists, right-wing Tea Party conservatives and everyone on food stamps. Darting them with sterilization chemicals is opposed by right to life members and proponents of the pure food and drug act. Hauling them off in trucks to the Adirondacks is opposed by people living in the Adirondacks. Letting them just run free is opposed by everyone who plants landscaping around their home.

Even a plan to spay the females has not worked out. An East Hampton organization called the East Hampton Group for Wildlife filed a suit against East Hampton Village last week regarding the village’s hiring a company that the Group for Wildlife claims essentially botched the job of spaying 114 female deer by, among other things, not using proper medical locations or attire when they did that job last fall, thus causing the female deer considerable pain and suffering.

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It’s so frustrating. Everything we try just doesn’t work out. And now we are approaching another winter when deer will be in crisis here.

At last Tuesday’s Hampton Town Board meeting, however, the Mayor of the Hamptons, David Klein, presented a plan for the deer that is apparently acceptable to everybody except one group, which will be mentioned at the end of this article.

“Recently watching a documentary on the National Geographic Channel, I was fascinated to see a tribe of natives in Tibet herd deer. I didn’t know you could herd deer. I contacted the makers of the documentary and they put me in touch with the tribal chiefs there. The native group is known as the Patakis.”

Five Patakis were present at the Town Board meeting. All five had been flown in from Tibet 10 days ago and have, during these days, held meet and greets with many different interest groups here, all of whom have found the Patakis charming, intelligent and, although quite short, very handsome. They speak no English but can get the meanings of their conversation across quite easily with hand gestures that those in the know say is somewhere between sign Language, Pig Latin, Spanglish and Braille.

“The Patakis as a tribe in Tibet are who you call in when you have a deer problem,” the Mayor said. “That is all they do. They are specialists. As shepherds, they tend the deer, and, using little wooden switches and miniature poodle dogs who run around keeping everything orderly, get the deer walking in line and moving nose-to-tail to pastures they have for them in the community.”

People at the Town Board meeting were a little put off at first by the war paint the Patakis smear on their bodies and by the spears they carry. But the man who is their leader, who calls himself the Hokus, led the Patakis in native dances and songs in front of the crowd in the auditorium, and these herders were quite fetching, indeed. They carry leather water bottles on belts around their waists, wear beaded moccasins, hand-tooled vests and black rubber galoshes and, in performing for the citizenry, stopped on several occasions to blow into rams horns the men carry, which elicited a mournful cry, got the poodles barking and at least a dozen deer in from the woods across from the firehouse parking lot to the auditorium front door expressing tears of joy, where the Patakis ordered them to sit for the duration of the meeting before leading them off waving and smiling—the Patakis, that is—to pasture for
the night.

“We have set aside nine pastures for the deer in the Hamptons,” the Mayor said. “In Amagansett, the pasture is alongside the Amagansett IGA in that unused field there. In Montauk, the deer are pastured in a very lightly used 50-acre park out on Navy Road called Roughrider Park, which the citizenry of that town have not cottoned to. In East Hampton, the pasture is the East Hampton High School football field. In Bridgehampton it is the field behind the Bridgehampton Historical Society, in Water Mill it is the Village Green, in Southampton it is in part of the parking lot across from the railroad station, in Hampton Bays it’s at Red Creek Park, and in Westhampton its alongside the runway at Gabreski Airport.”

The mayor explained that the Patakis, who sleep on mats out in the open, keep warm with the deer and the dogs huddled around them, then travel by night from one pasture to another to keep the deer and dogs fit and trim.

“The Patakis will be able to herd the deer from place to place between 3 and 5 a.m. every day, using the shoulder of the Montauk Highway through the community. They will go single-file along the road, so there is no need to divert late-night traffic while they are on the move. The last Pataki has a reflector on his back, the one in the front has a skullcap with a lantern light strapped to it.

“So far, the only group objecting to the deer being rounded up and brought to pasture is the Hampton Automobile Body Shop Repair Union, which represents the interests of body shops around the Hamptons that repair dents in cars that have been in accidents with the deer. It is expected there will be far fewer accidents with deer, or, as the Patakis charmingly put it, ‘garushelah ka-pow,’ due to the iron discipline and tutelage of the Patakis.”

And local citizens are welcome to come to the pastures between five and six any morning when the deer and the herders wake up, so the citizenry can pet the deer and feed them carrots and apples, which they really love. (The Patakis eat only empty peanut shells—which local Hamptonites throw away, so this is really recycling of the highest order.)

Feel free to take pictures, too.

Deer herding by the Patakis will begin on December 11, when more than 200 of the Patakis will arrive here, both men and women, to camp out in the pastures—the women cook the meals, take care of children and play the accordions—and they will be here until the end of March, when they have to leave for home to Tibet for the Feast of the Gods, which takes place every year there on the first Tuesday in April. The men go the following week. Be sure to come out at dawn to watch the women go, and then the following week the men, paddling their outrigger canoes from Long Wharf on the appointed days. (Watch for the dates in our Dan’s Papers events calendar.)

“We’ll see how it all went after they go,” the Mayor said. “If we deem it to have been a success, we’ll have them back next winter. By the way, they work very cheap.”

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