As Hallowe’en came and went, the immuno-contraception(IC) portion of the science-based Oak Bay Urban Deer Research Project came to a close for this year. What a successful September and October it’s been!
However, prior to the field work beginning in early September, there was a great deal of “behind the scenes” work, with Dr. Jason Fisher leading the research on strategies for studying deer populations, densities, space use, habitat selection, distribution and movement patterns. This research is an incredibly important component of this multi-year research project as it gives not only this community but others, information on urban Columbian Black-tailed deer ecology that has not been known before. All of this information is helping wildlife biologists, the province and other communities understand more about the indigenous urban deer populations in our midst. It’s important to remember that while many of us rarely saw deer in urban setting as recently as 10 years ago, they have been on this land for thousands of years, as indicated in First Nations historical records.
To that point, we are proud to have received the endorsement of the Songhees Nation for IC as the best management tool for the indigenous black-tailed deer population.
A first set of data, collected from twenty GPS collared does and 39 motion sensitive cameras was analyzed last winter (see preliminary report https://uwss.ca/our-research/ ) , and an expanded dataset will be analyzed this coming winter and after fawning season ends next summer. The next set of data will help our wildlife scientists better understand the fawning rate and population structure (e.g. ratio of bucks, does, and fawns in the population).
While the important research continues, the next step was to actually provide IC to does this fall, with the number of does determined based on the initial dataset. Although we had a permit to IC up to 80 does, we knew from the preliminary report that that would be the high end of the number of does, particularly as a control group of 20 does does not receive IC. However we were prepared to treat as many as we could in the short window available for IC field work.
So what did IC actually involve? Between early September and the end of October, wildlife veterinarian Dr. Adam Hering, along with a volunteer field team including other wildlife veterinarians, Dr. Jason Fisher, and his team of wildlife biologists, grad students and community members, sedated and then administered an immuno-contraceptive to 60 does.
While the does were sedated and their vital signs carefully monitored, the field teams took blood and fur samples that are sent to the Province for analysis. The does were then collared and ear-tagged with colour codes for individual identification before the sedation was reversed. Beginning in mid-September and right through to the end of October, all but three of those 60 does received a booster shot that increases the efficacy of the vaccine to between 85 – 95%.
This means that next spring, we expect that only the does that did not receive a vaccine, as there were some, and the control group, will give birth to fawns. The post IC data collection will give us important information but it’s likely that there could be a reduction in the fawing rate by approximately 60 to 90 fawns (the younger ones would only have given birth to one fawn, and those that have reached their 4th birthday would likely have had twins).
Of the 60 does, 8 were fitted with a prototype GPS collar that we are testing for Margo Supplies, an Alberta company that works to provide proven solutions to wildlife management challenges. Margo Supplies has worked with both Dr. Fisher and Dr. Hering in the past, and we were delighted to have the opportunity to trial these lightweight and innovative collars – another example of how so many stakeholders have come together to develop and implement a scientifically-based urban deer non-lethal deer management strategy.
As of October 31st, this first year of IC came to a close. This is because there is a small window of time that we have to vaccinate does – after fawning season and the summer, but before rutting season begins, usually at the end of October. Our provincial permit therefore expired on October 31, and a new one will be applied for when we next go out into the field. We see signs that rutting season has begun now, and this is a good opportunity to remind everyone to give bucks lots of space over the next month – please go to our website https://uwss.ca/about-our-deer/ for information on how to reduce human-deer conflict.
The urban deer project in Oak Bay is funded by the municipality, the Province of BC, and through the volunteer work of the UWSS. It’s a research initiative, with the key focus continuing to be the collection and analysis of data that continually informs next steps. The community engagement has been overwhelming, with over 650 home-owners allowing field work to occur on their property, and citizen scientists helping locate deer for vaccinations and boostering.
The work of the UWSS as part of the unique three-way partnership (four including the community!) is being widely recognized as a positive and hopeful approach to managing urban deer. Continuing with this cutting edge and innovative research project led by Dr. Fisher will be key to ensuring its success, and will benefit not just Oak Bay, but also other communities across the CRD, BC and Canada, that are struggling with managing urban deer populations.