This weekend, we begin the deer immunocontraception study in Hastings. This email describes how this will affect you and what you might see as it unfolds over the month of March. Since the darting will occur in Hillside Woods and on the Andrus property (as well as other locations), almost everyone is within range of experiencing the process first-hand.
This effort will consist of two trained Humane Society professionals (their names are Rick and Kayla) who will be darting deer with anesthetics in various parks in town. The deer will be sedated by the drugs and then be injected with the actual immunocontraceptive drug, have their ears tagged, and then released.
First of all, we are going to ask that anyone walking their dogs in Hillside Woods strictly obey the leash laws during the entire month of March. You should, naturally, be obeying the leash laws at all times (it is almost never fun to have a strange dog jumping up on non-owners), but during the duration of this study, we do not want the dogs spooking the deer or interfering in the darting. Leash laws (yes, we have them) will be immediately enforced (no warnings).
The Humane Society professionals will be surveying the woods this week and determining where best to start. They will likely deploy a barrel-like device filled with corn that will automatically dispense the feed at certain times during the day. This device will be unmistakable should you encounter it, though it will have a sign indicating its purpose for those not informed. The feeder will quickly habituate the deer, who are quite hungry by this point in the winter, to congregate for feeding. Please do not disturb the feeders and please keep your pets away from them as their scent may discourage the deer.
2) Restricted Park access
On those days when the darting will actually happen, we will restrict access to those parts of Hillside where the darting will occur. There will be yellow tape with clear signs and possibly volunteers, village employees, or police officers who will be waving off dog walkers and the curious. Please respect the tape and the restricted access. The entire park will not be off limits. This may be for a couple of hours or it may be for much of the day. It will depend upon the success we are having in that location.
The darting professionals will wait until they have a clean shot at a still deer when the dart will hit the flank of the deer. This typically happens at a distance of 25-35 feet. Upon impact, the dart will discharge the anesthetic into the deer and remain imbedded in the deer because of barbs in the dart needle. The deer will typically bolt at this point, and run some distance from the site of the darting. The professionals will not pursue the deer for several minutes as they will want to give the anesthetic five or ten minutes to take effect. If the deer is out of sight, the Humane Society professionals will use a radio receiver to home in on the radio beacon that is a part of the dart still imbedded in the deer. This radio receiver device looks like something out of a cold-war era movie, a
metal loop on a stick attached to a box. If you see a man or woman in an orange reflective vest walking through the woods or down the street holding such a device over their head, you will know what you are looking at. Very occasionally, the dart may become dislodged. While the Humane Society professionals will do their level best to retrieve the dart, on the off chance that they don't but that you encounter it, please do not touch it. Instead, call the police (478-2344) and they will vector someone in to retrieve it. This is the moment where I should mention that the darting professionals have done this over 3,000 times in a variety of settings and have never had an accident.
4) Deer treatment
The deer will eventually become sedated and lie down. This may be in the woods, and it also may be (depending upon how far the deer ran) out in public, perhaps even in your front or backyard. The deer, while sedated, is not a predictable animal. PLEASE DO NOT APPROACH THE ANIMAL. It may not be fully sedated, and can rise up and startle. If you do not have the Humane Society professionals within sight, please phone the police and report that you have a sedated deer on your property (478-2344). The Humane Society professional will be there in a matter of minutes to process the deer. They will first verify that the deer is fully sedated and if not, ensure it is so by additional injections. Then the professionals will tag both ears with very large and visible
tags, carry out some measurements, and then inject the deer with the immunocontraceptive. The deer will take some time to revive (20-60 minutes). The Humane Society professional will remain near the site until the deer is conscious and ambulatory. At no point in this process should you approach the team: they are working and the deer may come to unexpectedly.
5) Deer release
The deer will amble off with its new ear-tags and hopefully not calve new fawns in the subsequent two years. It may decide to lie down a little later and sleep off the anesthetic. Do not worry about the deer: that is normal and it will be fine.
Over the course of four weeks, we hope to treat a substantial number of the does in these woods. This is really the first trial run of the study, and if we succeed in treating 20-30 does, it will be a fine first effort. You may land up wondering why you continue to see so many untagged deer. Remember that only does are being treated, so a substantial portion of the untreated deer are going to be males ("bucks") or juveniles.
This study will progress through the full month of March. You're likely to encounter Rick or Kayla throughout the month in their signature orange vests, possibly carrying darting gear or their radio antennas. They'll be pleased to explain what they are up to - up to a point. Remember that they have a job to do and please allow them the time to do it. They've done this in wild and suburban locations for many years and have never had an accident or major issue. Their primary concern is your safety, and they will let deer walk by if they think there is any remote risk to resident or wayward pet. But we want their effort to be successful and ask that you respect the yellow tape, respect requests to remain at a distance, and keep your dog on a leash. As docile as the deer may appear,
darted or undarted, they remain wild animals with an instinct to startle and flee or rear up and defend themselves if no other option presents itself. Don't give them a reason.
This is an exciting moment. This study will draw substantial attention since so many communities have the same problem, and we are eager for it to run smoothly and effectively. If you have questions, please write me or, if you see them, ask Rick or Kayla. The website (here) will also have a full description of our safety protocol