WHAT KIND OF DEER LIVE IN OAK BAY?
The only species of “urban” deer typically seen in Oak Bay and surrounding municipalities is the Columbian Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus), a sub-species of the Mule Deer. The black-tailed deer are native to Vancouver Island, and have adapted to a variety of ecosystems across North America over thousands of years. Residential development, logging and grazing have reduced historical deer habitat. Some black-tailed deer, however, are managing to survive in these altered environments, including Oak Bay and surrounding municipalities.
HOW MANY DEER LIVE IN OAK BAY?
No one knows right now. So we are using a combination of radio/GPS collars in conjunction with an array of motion-triggered wildlife cameras to allow us to calculate an accurate deer population size. This form of mark-recapture study allows us to capture photos of both tagged and untagged deer. If we want to know more about how many deer there are and where they live, we need to be able to track their movements. This is a standard approach to wildlife research used around the globe.
WHY ARE SOME DEER IN OAK BAY WEARING COLLARS?
Twenty does in Oak Bay have been fitted with radio/GPS collars in order to study their movement patterns and distribution. This will give us valuable insights into urban deer ecology. The collars also serve as attachment sites for the colored tags (each deer can be individually identified by a unique color combination), as this is less invasive than ear tags. These tags play an integral part in calculating the number of deer in Oak Bay (s.a.)
DO THE COLLARS HURT THE DEER?
The padded collars, including GPS/VHF components and ID tags, weigh no more than 1 pound, and are unlikely to impact collared deer in any significant negative way. This collar is used on black-tailed deer all over North America. It is the right size and weight for the animal, as determined by the Canadian Council on Animal Care, and as confirmed by BC Fish and Wildlife, who also approved the study.
In order to allow for growth, collars were given a loose fit intentionally. At certain times of the year, like the spring moult, the collars can help to rub off moulting fur. There is no evidence that collars cause any harm to the animal. However, we take all reports of collar-induced injury seriously and consult with our wildlife veterinarian immediately.
WHAT IS IMMUNO-CONTRACEPTION (IC)?
Immuno-contraception (IC) is a type of vaccine that induces the animal to produce antibodies that prevent fertilization and the formation of an embryo. As with other vaccines, some IC vaccines have to be administered repeatedly. However, we are hoping to initiate the development of a long-term IC vaccine that would last for the majority of a doe’s reproductive span.
WHY IMMUNO-CONTRACEPTION (IC) AND NOT A CULL OR TRANSLOCATION?
Experience in other jurisdictions has shown that translocation, i.e. trapping and moving animals to other areas, is not always effective (many animals move back to urban environments) and detrimental to the deer (poor survival statistics in an unaccustomed environment).
In a lethal cull, deer are caught in baited net traps, stunned with a bolt gun to the skull and the throat is slit until death from bleeding. Culls are not supported by the BCSPCA. Culls have also been shown to actually increase the local deer population. A program in Kelowna has demonstrated that after five years of culling, the deer population is now 36% higher than before their removal.
Once deer are removed from the population – through either culls or translocations – deer from neighbouring areas move into the now available habitat.
On the other hand, IC-vaccinated deer will maintain their home ranges, deterring inward migration. IC-vaccination may also reduce the number of “aggressive deer” because vaccinated does won’t have fawns to defend. Does that aren’t lactating eat less.
HOW ARE DEER CAPTURED AND TREATED WITH THE CONTRACEPTIVE VACCINE?
The most stress-free method (for deer!) to be immobilized is chemical immobilization, i.e. a form of anesthetic delivered by a licenced wildlife veterinarian. The wildlife veterinarian is supported by a field crew of biologists and trained volunteers who help stabilize the animal (this was the method used for successfully capturing and GPS collaring twenty does). The veterinarian will hand-inject the anesthetised doe with the contraceptive vaccine. Once vaccinated, the veterinarian will administer a reversal drug to wake her up. She will then be free to carry on with her life unencumbered.
WHEN WILL OAK BAY DEER BE TREATED WITH IMMUNO-CONTRACEPTIVE VACCINE?
We are planning an immuno-contraception trial for early fall 2018.
Fawns are typically born late May through June, although late-comers can be born throughout the summer. We will avoid the stress of handling any does and fawns during this critical period. However, immuno-contraception needs to be administered before the rutting and mating season in November.
HOW QUICKLY WILL THE OAK BAY DEER POPULATION DECLINE AFTER IMMUNO-CONTRACEPTION?
That depends on what proportion of the deer population is treated and we don’t yet know how many deer there are in Oak Bay. We will publish the results of our population estimate as well as projected numbers as our study progresses.
WHAT ASSURANCES ARE THERE THAT DEER WILL BE TREATED HUMANELY?
The Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society adheres to the principles of Compassionate Conservation, valuing the welfare of individual animals as much as protection of species and habitat. In addition, our collaring and IC-vaccination project has passed rigorous animal care approvals set out by the Canadian Council on Animal Care, as well as those required by BC Fish and Wildlife. Our project, and our licenses to conduct this valuable research and management project would not have been approved without meeting those stringent requirements. We are ensuring that humane treatment is our utmost priority by having a licenced wildlife veterinarian and wildlife biologist oversee all field operations. We also have the support of the BC SPCA, the Victoria Humane Society, and cooperate with BC’s Provincial veterinarian who oversees all wildlife animal care for the entire province.
DOES THIS PROGRAM REQUIRE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT?
This research and immuno-contraception project is being co-funded by the province of British Columbia and the municipality of Oak Bay. We are operating under a provincial wildlife permit, which can only be granted if the project meets stringent animal care regulations and requirements.
WILL THIS PROGRAM GET RID OF DEER IN MY GARDEN?
Even with lower numbers, a deer can enter a yard and browse on flowers unless it is fenced. It’s important to remember that many residents enjoy and support the presence of deer in our community. No one is proposing that deer, which are native to this area, be eliminated from Oak Bay. The deer are here to stay. There are many proven non-lethal measures that residents and municipalities can take to co-exist with deer, such as fencing, scare devices, repellents, deer-resistant landscaping, and anti-feeding bylaws. This is where we will be asking local governments to recognize their responsibility for public education and mitigation measures. We are happy to provide them with the benefits of our expertise and experience.
HOW WILL THIS PROGRAM PROTECT US FROM AGGRESSIVE DEER?
Deer are only “aggressive” to people and/or dogs when they’re feeling threatened, especially when protecting fawns. As the immuno-contraceptive program progresses there will be fewer fawns for the does to defend. In addition, a sustained public education campaign will help people better understand deer behaviour and how to avoid conflict. A deer that stands alert facing you or starts approaching you and your dog, is usually a doe with a fawn – which may not be visible but hidden near-by. It’s a good idea to keep dogs (dangerous predators from the point of view of a mother doe) on leash, give the deer space by backing slowly away and finding an alternate route. It helps to avoid looking directly at a defensive deer while keeping it in sight out of the corners of your eyes—predators “stare” at potential prey, so deer interpret a direct stare as potentially dangerous.
HOW WILL THIS PROGRAM HELP REDUCE VEHICLE-DEER COLLISIONS?
Our data will help to identify the specific locations where, when and why deer cross roads. In these areas we suggest that roadside vegetation be removed or pruned to increase visibility, parking be restricted, lighting be improved, and warning signs be erected. We hope the Oak Bay municipality will work with us to lower and enforce speed limits along roads where there have been a high number of vehicle-deer collisions. But the greatest reduction in collisions will be achieved through educating drivers about the importance of reducing speed, being alert, and understanding deer travel patterns. In Ottawa, the driver education program Speeding Will Cost You Deerly has reduced collisions by 40 per cent.