Frederick Co. postal clerk feels the call of the wild


August 19, 1991|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Correspondent

NEW MIDWAY -- Buster Gerwig has a home where the buffalo roam.

A census of his three-acre backyard also turns up arctic foxes and albino raccoons, pygmy goats and prairie dogs, coatimundi and a llama, bobcats, deer and a black bear named Bozo.

Why is a 50-year-old postal clerk in a Frederick County village surrounded by a menagerie?

"I just got it because I like exotic stuff," said Bradley M. "Buster" Gerwig Jr., the stocky outdoorsman.

That's about as philosophical as Mr. Gerwig will get. He doesn't have a lot of time to probe the whys and wherefores behind his animal kingdom; he has too many mouths to feed.

His pair of bobcats need plenty of red meat, so Mr. Gerwig is always on the lookout for road kills -- deer, groundhogs, rabbits. It helps that he has a second job delivering newspapers on rural highways and byways.

His three species of deer need plenty of corn. It helps that he has a third job growing corn on eight acres down the road from his house.

His two buffaloes need pasture for grazing. It helps that he has a fourth job raising about 25 head of beef cattle.

And the 300-pound Bozo eats plenty of dog food, watermelon rinds and pastry.

The overall feed bill comes to more than $300 a month.

"It's all supposed to be a hobby," Lurine Gerwig, the animal-keeper's wife, said with resignation.

The Gerwigs' vacation this year consisted of driving to Ocean City at 4 a.m., jumping in the surf, and returning to New Midway by midnightin time to deliver newspapers. Mr. Gerwig said that he enjoyed a side trip to the Salisbury Zoo more than the beach anyway.

It all started about a quarter-century ago, when Mr. Gerwig used to visit Julien Delphey, a Frederick store owner, former state delegateand animal fancier, on Sundays to see his animal

collection. Mr. Gerwig bought a couple of white-tailed fawns "just for a hobby."

The collection kept growing until the Gerwigs' grove of oaks and hickories on Detour Road recently became the Deer Haven Mini-Zoo (open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, admission $2 for adults and 50 cents for children).

But it still feels like a back yard. On a busy weekend, maybe 15 cars a day will pull in for a look-see, Mr. Gerwig says.

On a recent weekday, the only paying customer was Tina Young of nearby Walkersville and her 2-year-old daughter, Katie.

"Not many people know about it, I don't think," said Mrs. Young, who has visited Mr. Gerwig's animals for years and now has passed her affection for them on to her daughter.

Katie's favorite are the deer, Mrs. Young said. "She's not afraid to feed them."

Mrs. Young particularly enjoys bringing out-of-town visitors to Deer Haven and watching the resulting culture shock.

"They can't believe it," she said. "They're not used to these kinds of animals being on someone's land."

While Mr. Gerwig clearly enjoys the animals, he's not at all sentimental about them.

He says he doesn't trust Bozo, the 4-year-old black bear, who is kept in a large cage surrounded by a 9-foot-high chain-link fence.

His raccoons were "hand-fed and bottle-raised, but they'd just as soon take your arm off," he said.

When his pair of bobcats see red meat, "they go absolutely crazy. They pounce on it just like they're killing something. They've got that blood in them. You just don't fool with a wild animal."

His 6-year-old buffalo bull charged him once, and Mr. Gerwig said, "I won't even turn my back on him when I go in there. If he ever got you down, he'd kill you. He could take that head and you wouldn't know what hit you."

The 1-ton bull has a massive, shaggy head, lethal horns, flaring nostrils and breath that sounds like a bellows stoking a hot fire. He is indeed a formidable adversary.

So why keep buffaloes in a Maryland pasture or wild animals in cages? Isn't it cruel?

Mr. Gerwig thinks not.

"If they weren't in pens, they'd get killed on the roads. If they weren't in pens, there wouldn't be any animals. There's no 'wild' left really, not around here," he said.

"If I can't keep them fed and clean, I'm not going to have them," he said.

Inspired by Mr. Gerwig's example and want to collect exotic critters of your own? Here's a word of advice from the state Department of Natural Resources: Don't.

"Don't even think about it," said Mary Jo Scanlan, the department's wildlife permits coordinator. "It's illegal to own them, and they're dangerous."

It's not illegal for Mr. Gerwig, a federally licensed exhibitor of animals.

His permits to own such animals predate the Natural Resources' prohibition on importing undomesticated mammals into Maryland because of the threat of rabies, Ms. Scanlan said.

Now the department is considering banning even licensed game breeders and exhibitors from importing, selling or trading such animals, she said.

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