The Deer Project at Head-of-the-Harbor

The Village of Head of the Harbor is joining in a research program with Avalon Park & Preserve, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University to help communities manage their conflicts with abundant populations of white-tailed deer.

Humane, non-lethal deer population control can be an important tool for easing community concerns about deer. For several decades, HSUS, Tufts, and others have been field-testing the PZP (porcine zona pellucida) contraceptive vaccine to improve its effectiveness as a deer population management tool. Past studies on deer in New York, South Carolina and elsewhere have shown that the vaccine is safe, lasts for multiple years with single treatments, and can be effective at reducing population size.

The Head-of-the-Harbor project will use the best available PZP vaccine and focus on developing field methods that will make deer contraception easier and more cost-effective. Specifically, we will be trying techniques that could reduce the need to capture deer for treatment. Deer capture is more time-consuming, costly, and risky for deer and field personnel than delivering the vaccine directly by dart. So we will be exploring new protocols for dart-delivery of PZP and testing some novel ways to identify individuals without putting numbered tags in their ears (although all subjects in this study will first be captured and tagged). Among other things, we will be testing whether microchips implanted in deer can be detected by antennas set up at feeders and along trails, and whether artificial intelligence can be employed to identify individual deer using photographic and video data.

At the same time, Avalon Park and Preserve will be testing whether drones and trail cameras can be used to accurately estimate deer population sizes in Head-of-the-Harbor, and how the deer population changes as the project progresses. We are excited to get started and will provide progress reports to the Village on this website as the project proceeds.

SIDEBAR ON DEER BEHAVIOR!

As so many communities in the eastern half of the United States now know, white-tailed deer thrive in suburbs. While suburban deer are most active in the early morning and evening, they can be seen at any time, especially when they’re hungry. You will also notice that their behavior varies with the weather – for example, they may disappear completely right before and during a storm, then reappear in numbers when fair weather returns. Behavior also varies with season – in late spring, for example, does isolate themselves to attend to their fawns, then slowly gather in summer as the fawns get big enough to travel with their mothers and abundant foliage feeds larger groups.

The does are the foundation of deer social organization (as well as the targets for our contraceptive darts!). Like many wild animals, most female deer (especially in suburbs) remain close to where they were born, hanging out in safe and familiar settings with a changing cast of female relatives and their offspring. This behavior makes it possible to control deer populations locally, using contraceptives or other tools, and also makes it likely that you will see the same females in the same spots over and over again. Also typically, males move around much more widely, leaving the neighborhood where they were born and traveling far in search of mating opportunities.

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