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Deer Spays: “No Kill” Deer-Population Control Begins in Northern CA Community

A 1,200-acre gated community nestled in the foothills at San Jose, California, has become overrun by deer, and residents are imposing a “no kill” birth-control program on a herd that has doubled to 170 in just two years. The does are being tranquilized, captured, surgically spayed and released back into a fenced area, according to the Mercury News.

The Villages, with 4,000 senior residents, decided that this non-lethal approach is the most humane method of deer-population management, and the most likely to be effective—albeit expensive, according to an Associated Press interview with Darren Shaw, general manager of the development.

The Villages plan also includes relocating 30 of the sterilized animals outside the fenced area in order to more quickly cut down on current overcrowding. The head of White Buffalo wildlife management says this is less costly and less stressful for the animals than transporting them.

However, Eric Kurhi of the Mercury News recalls that the relocation of a Fremont herd in the early 1990s ended with all the animals either starving to death or falling prey to mountain lions when they were moved to the Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Deer Behavior Also a Problem

There are other problems which develop when humans cohabitate with wildlife—it is not just the number of animals that become a problem but also their behavior.

General Manager Darren Shaw explained, “The deer are no longer intimidated by people here. Sometimes during rutting season they can become aggressive. We are concerned that someone might get hurt." Shaw said there have been incidents involving deer attacking dogs and deer being struck by cars. They also consume about $150,000 worth of landscaping each year, he told the AP.

De Nicola of the White Buffalo wildlife management company explains, "The deer get to a point where you really are not much different than any other animal in the landscape that is not threatening to them."

How do You Spay a Deer?

According to the agreement, White Buffalo will conduct a mobile medical lab to tranquilize the deer and perform ovariectomies every night through February 4. This is less intrusive than a cat or dog spay because only the doe’s ovaries are removed, according to the website Wildlife Rescue, Inc.

DeNicola acknowledged there is a chance that some deer may die. But he said a similar program he recently completed near Ithaca, N.Y., saw five deaths out of 172 deer handled, a rate he called "unheard of." DeNicola added that two were already suffering from injuries that would have resulted in a painful death had they not been euthanized.

Rebecca Dmytryk of Wildlife Emergency Services said that "deer are probably one of the most difficult wild animals to deal with" because of their flighty nature and strength. “(Deer are) dangerous to themselves and other people, and when they get scared they panic,” Dmytryk told the Mercury News, “They will fight or flee to save their lives even if it kills them.”

Will Spaying Replace Deer Hunting?

The company admitted that, although surgical sterilization of the females might work at the Villages because the deer are in a fenced area where they can be tranquilized and captured fairly easily, it will not be cheap, and it is not a practical method of controlling any large-scale population control.

And not everyone at the Villages supports the surgical population-reduction plan, saying the deer lived there long before people. “The deer were here first, it’s their country,” resident James Nielsen told the Mercury News. “These people are trying to get rid of its natural inhabitants.”


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