“Bambi” – a cliché from the forest
Hunting deer for conservation? For “Bambi” fans, that makes absolutely no sense. In the movie, the deer is just cute and the hunter is the bad guy. But in reality it is much more complicated.
Big wide eyes, a happily bobbing tail and four stumpy legs – since “Bambi” many people have had a clear idea of the distribution of roles in the forest: on the one hand the cute deer, on the other hand the hunters who kill “Bambi’s” mother. But now this picture is upside down: foresters and nature conservation organizations are calling for more deer to be shot, because they say they slow down the forest conversion that is so important in the climate crisis – but some hunters hesitate. A kind of culture war broke out around “Bambi”.
The novel “Bambi – Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Wald” by the Austrian writer Felix Salten was published about 100 years ago. About 20 years later, Disney’s animated film, based on the book, made “Bambi” famous. This was formative for generations of children – also for the Munich media scientist Maya Götz: “It shapes our image, how is a deer doing. And it shapes the image of the hunter – namely: he shoots deer.”
In particular, the scene in which “Bambi’s” mother is shot during a hunt still has an impact decades later, as Götz found out in a study on fear and nightmares that films evoke. To do this, she interviewed around 630 adults from eight countries. “”Bambi” was one of the most frequently mentioned films,” says the expert from the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television of the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation.
Debate about kill numbers
“Bambi” is still a “supergau for forestry,” says the Bavarian local caretaker Rudolf Neumaier, who wrote a book about deer. “The wild animal deer has become so popular through the Bambi brand that it’s difficult to tell a story where it’s a vermin.” Neumaier is a hunter and observes the debate about the number of kills very closely. “I think it’s too quick to demand that the deer stocks be adjusted – or regulated, as it is euphemistically called.”
Ralf Straußberger, for example, from the Bavarian Nature Conservation Union demands this. According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, around 450,000 hectares of forest will have to be reforested in Germany in the next few years. But often the young trees don’t have a chance to grow up because deer and deer nibble on them, says Straußberger. Above all in areas where the forest is damaged, the shooting quotas must therefore increase.
The fact that such a demand is met with a lack of understanding is also due to “Bambi,” says Straussberger. “Many believe because of the film that the deer is the male deer. It shows how a story can give a completely wrong impression,” explains the conservationist. In Salten’s novel, “Bambi” is a roebuck. In the film, which takes place in North America, it becomes a white-tailed deer.
1.2 million deer shot in Germany every year
Forest scientist Ulrich Schraml also sees a special relationship with deer and deer in Germany. “There is a completely different discussion about the shooting than about the wild boar.” From an ecological point of view, however, it can make sense, according to him, to hunt more deer where the forest is being converted.
According to the German Hunting Association, 1.2 million deer are shot in Germany every year. According to spokesman Torsten Reinwald, the debate on how many more there should be to protect the forest falls short. “You need wild ecological spatial planning.” In addition to increased hunting in reforested areas, this also means, for example, quiet zones with an attractive supply of food.
Andreas Kinser from the German Wildlife Foundation in Hamburg takes a similar view. In areas where storms or the bark beetle have raged, hunting plays an important role, but is not the only solution. Newly planted trees from the tree nursery, such as Douglas fir or red oak, would need additional protection in the first few years. Because these are a treat for deer with their high nutrient content.
In the debate about the number of kills, “Bambi” could have actually harmed the deer, says Kinser. “Without the cliché, there wouldn’t be as much emotionality in the debate. That doesn’t make it any easier.”