Editor's Note: This story was updated Monday, at 10:48 a.m.
Brown, fluffy and on a mission, the donkey named Bunny is training for the career of a lifetime.
At 8 months old, Bunny is still a foal.
But she hopes to follow in her late brother Bambi’s footsteps as the guardian of Wild Heart Ranch.
Lead volunteer, and husband to the Director of Operations Annette King, Dan Hardt said the purpose of a guard donkey is to protect the injured or orphaned deer that are brought to Wild Heart for rescue and rehabilitation.
After the fawns pass the age where they no longer have to be hand-fed, they will be released into Bunny’s care.
“A guard donkey protects the fawns from common local predators like bobcats, coyotes, cougars and black bears,” Hardt said. “They heard deer into a tight circle and run around them kicking and screaming.”
Bunny also allows the growing deer to un-imprint from humans, important for their long-term health.
Grown deer travel approximately 20 miles a day.
“We don’t want them to walk up to a hunter and become easy prey or walk up to people’s homes and cars and becomes a danger to themselves or others,” Hardt said. “Imprinted deer just means a dead deer.”
Before Bunny, or even Bambi, Wild Heart Ranch used guard dogs.
They were great dogs, and their photos still hang on the walls, but they wouldn’t sleep or eat with the herd.
“The donkey eats, sleeps, plays and runs with them,” Hardt said.
Bunny as two or three more months of growth before either she or the deer are ready to face the great outdoors full-time.
She may be overseeing the last two deer to reside at Wild Heart for the foreseeable future.
The Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry recently banned wildlife rehabilitators from helping injured deer and fawns to control the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, also known as Zombie Deer Disease.
The disease eats away at the brains of all deer-like creatures, including elk and moose, causing intense thirst but killing the urge to eat food. The animals eventually starve to death.
As of April 2019, no case of CWD has been confirmed in a free-ranging wild deer or elk in Oklahoma. However, the Department of Wildlife Conservation is on alert do to confirmed cases in Arkansas, Texas and Missouri.
Dot and Viv, the weeks old fawns at Wild Heart Ranch were grandfathered into protection by just one hour of the ban being issued.
They were named after Dan and Annette’s mothers, just in time for Mother’s Day.
Bunny will watch over Dot and Viv as they play and grow.
One day they will decide to hop the fence and take off on their own adventures.
Until then, a guard donkey’s duty is never done.