6 min read

A Step Away from Killing Mule Deer in British Columbia

<p>© Born Free USA / Barry MacKay<span></span></p>

It was Valentine's Day when I left Toronto for British Columbia by way of Calgary. The flight to the town of Kimberley, nested in the Kootenay "trench" between two snowy mountain ranges, was dramatic and fun-but the real work began the next day.

My colleague, Liz White, a fellow director of both Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC) and the BC Deer Protection Society, met with me and one of the members of a team assembled for the delicate task of capturing, via tranquilizing, local mule deer around the edges of town and moving them a considerable distance to one of various carefully-chosen wilderness sites.

We were under a degree of suspicion from at least some of the team members, as we had earlier released an anonymously produced video that showed the inherent brutality in what had happened weeks earlier in the neighboring community of Cranbrook. Born Free USA's view is that it is not necessary to either cull or move deer, or render them sterile, in order to resolve most of the concerns that derive from the presence of the animals in the community. What is required is education of citizens and bylaws that prohibit feeding the animals (either accidentally or intentionally), well-enforced leash laws (virtually all physical contact with deer involved a dog), incentives for good fencing, and even picking up fallen apples!

Kimberley was doing all this and more, and it was showing. Yes, it had undertaken a major cull a few years ago, killing nearly 100 deer-but lethal culls in other communities did not result in deer declines of comparable magnitude. It was community action that was working.

However, even though AAC had provided $10,000 (Canadian) to pay for radio-telemetry collars to be attached to some of the deer, we were mostly asked to stay back. It was all rather petty and just makes it harder for us to get funding for another time (but we may want to, because the operation was successful). One deer did die, while unconscious. While that is sad, the good news is that the rest survived the experience thanks to the professionalism of those involved.

Relocating Deer

© Born Free USA / Barry MacKay The process involved first having a skilled marksman shoot a tranquilizer dart into a deer. Some animals seemed not to notice. At least one bled, but there were three veterinarians on hand to render aid. The deer would very soon fall into a deep sleep, and only then would she be hobbled and blindfolded, placed in a van, and given an antidote and a calming tranquilizer (pictured, at right). Hours later, she would be driven to one of several release sites. Does were chosen (and the odd buck without antlers selected in error). If there were two together, they were moved together. As of this writing, we know one was later killed by a cougar. But, the others, of the ones with radio collars, survive so far.

And, while the community is greatly divided on the issue of lethal culling, we found virtually everyone-including the acting mayor, with whom we had dinner one evening, and the local rod and gun club-supported translocation as an alternative to killing.

Keep wildlife in the wild,
Barry