Whitetail Hunting photo

Have you ever wondered how and why those wily, elusive, locally legendary big bucks that always seem to be one step ahead of you and everyone else, end up getting tagged? Maybe that monster buck just woke up disillusioned one day, knowing that his youth was gone. Maybe that buck got depressed, said, “I just don’t care any more,” and let his guard down.

According to this story on nationalgeographic.com, scientists are studying how and why some animals seem to lose interest in their surroundings.

From the story:
In the October 5 issue of Science, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Olivier Berton and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania reviewed recent studies of rodents, primates, and fish who lacked interest in their environment and their fellow animals. We spoke with Berton about what we do–and don’t–know about animal depression.

Do animals get depressed? Depression is diagnosed in humans based on a list of symptoms that are all very subjective. Common core symptoms include feelings of guilt, thoughts of death, and loss of pleasure. Because animals can’t communicate even if they have these kinds of experiences, strictly the answer is: We can’t say.

What signs may indicate if an animal is depressed? There are certain aspects of the disease that may be measured in animals. One of the core symptoms of depression is anhedonia, the decrease and loss of interest in pleasurable activities. We measure interest in food that animals like a lot or in motivation for sexual activity. We also measure how they are interacting socially with other animals in the group, and changes in sleep patterns and daytime activities. Another behavior that has been used frequently to measure animal depression is whether they readily give up when exposed to a stressful situation.

So there you have it: if you’ve shot a wallhanger buck that didn’t seem to be interested in the does, ignored that lush food plot you grew, avoided fighting the other bucks in the area, and simply moped around the woods regardless of time of day, wind direction or topography, he was probably depressed, suicidal and just hoping to end it all. Which brings up a sticky ethical conundrum: now that you know the signs of a clinically-depressed trophy buck, would you still shoot him?