by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Cranbrook Councillor’s Query Comes Close
It probably was not the dumbest question I’ve ever heard, maybe not even the dumbest of, say, the last decade. But if not the dumbest, it was certainly in the running.
I paraphrase, but it went something like, “What do I tell the mother of a child who has been hurt by a deer?” What perhaps made it extra-dumb was the fact that it was made by someone who was actually elected by the people (mind you, when I review all the super-dumb things that elected politicians have done through my lifetime, I realize that being elected in no way guarantees the presence of an IQ above that of a watermelon). The question was asked of my colleague, Liz White, by a councillor for the city of Cranbrook, British Columbia, where, as discussed last week I went to help with the urban deer issue.
There’s nothing unusual about conflicts between people and deer, and Liz and I and many others have worked successfully with many communities to help to effectively resolve various concerns about deer. Many of those concerns, when examined objectively based on demonstrable facts, prove to be bogus.
(Photograph by Adam Lambert-Gorwyn)
In fact, it was more than three decades ago that I first investigated deer that people wanted culled, at the Peterborough Crown Game Preserve, here in Ontario. If the deer were not culled, we were told, they would sooner or later face mass starvation as a result of having exceeded their carrying capacity.
“Carrying capacity” is the name given to the number of animals who are supported by the resources, food and shelter, available. Those of us opposing the cull were deemed to be well-meaning but cruel — if we got our way, starvation was inevitable. That’s when I invented the term “pre-emptive euthanasia”: kill it now so it won’t suffer later.
We got our way and that predicted starvation has yet to occur, many generations of deer later.
At times we’ve been told that deer carry diseases in areas where those diseases have never occurred, and we’ve been told that collisions between deer and cars are increasing where police reports show the opposite.
But while everyone should respect the fact that a mule deer buck can weigh over 100 kilograms (about 220 pounds) and a white-tailed deer can be even larger (although most animals of both species are significantly smaller), and that they have sharp hooves and at certain times of years bucks are armed with the sharp points of multi-pronged antlers, they are not particularly dangerous. The risk they pose is recognized in Ontario (where we have no mule deer, just the white-tails) but is not a fixation. Ironically in British Columbia, land of grizzly bears and pumas, we encountered a concerted effort to portray mule deer as very dangerous animals.
Liz gave a detailed and nuanced reply to the councillor’s hypothetical question, but that did not appease him. I then suggested that he do what to me was obvious: tell the hypothetical mother to take the hypothetical kid to the hospital.
The need to take a child to the hospital because of deer injury happens, well, virtually never. That’s because deer simply are not that dangerous. Sure, they should not be approached, they should not be made tame and yes, there are people who are intimidated by the mere appearance of them (and other wildlife; I’ve had folks phone me in a panic about a hawk in the yard, robins nesting on the window ledge or a raccoon on the roof). We can’t honestly say they pose no risk, but the risk level is too low to even be estimated.
This is in contrast to, say, bounce houses. I had never heard of them until a few days ago, when media reported that in the United States an average of 30 kids a day get sent to the hospital because of injuries in bounce houses, which are inflatable structures that kids can bounce around in and are apparently popular at birthday parties and other child-friendly events. There have even been deaths, and yet I suspect the councillor has never bothered to get them banned. He advocates killing deer for a threat that has yet to materialize because the fear is there (two of his constituents claim they were chased by a deer!).
A survey of the average number of deaths caused by animals in the United States, per year, showed stinging insects to be the most dangerous (bees are attracted to flowers, deer eat flowers, so by the councillor’s reasoning deer should be encouraged since one of their “crimes” is flower consumption!) causing an average of 53 deaths per year. Dogs come in second, at 31, and horses third at 20. Of course far more people get a lot closer to far more dogs and horses than they do to deer, but that’s the point, or part of it. “Education” should include telling people to not approach deer, and never, ever corner them.
We have advocated for what works, a multi-pronged approach that includes a process that goes by the name “hazing,” which simply means trained border collies (watch this video) move deer away from urban areas back into surrounding wilderness. It does require provincial approval, which depends on it being connected to research, which is actually what is best for all in evaluating its efficacy. It is especially important that fawns are born away from urban areas as they are far less likely to enter town than the animals who are born within city limits. But education and by-laws (what Americans call “ordinances”) that prohibit feeding deer, are also important. Fear-mongering is not necessary, and can lead to very dumb questions.