Con­tra­cep­tive vac­cine planned for deer

The Daily Courier - - BC - By CINDY HARNETT

OAK BAY — Ad­min­is­tra­tion of a con­tra­cep­tive vac­cine is be­ing planned to man­age deer in Oak Bay after 20 does were ra­dio-col­lared last month.

Data from the col­lared does and 40 mo­tion­sen­sor in­frared cam­eras set up along trails in Oak Bay will be re­viewed be­fore the vac­cine can be ad­min­is­tered.

The pro­gram is “ground-break­ing” and the first time in B.C. and Canada that the im­muno­con­tra­cep­tive vac­cine, Zona­s­tat-D, would be used in a small, con­tained ur­ban set­ting to man­age deer, said Steve Hux­ter, of the non-profit Vic­to­ria-based Ur­ban Wildlife Ste­ward­ship So­ci­ety (UWSS).

If a per­mit from the prov­ince is granted, the birth-con­trol drug would be ad­min­is­tered to a num­ber of fe­male in­dige­nous Columbian black-tailed deer as early as Au­gust, said Hux­ter, who is the project man­ager.

Oak Bay has adopted a $40,000 pro­gram, jointly funded by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the prov­ince, to con­trol the deer pop­u­la­tion us­ing im­muno­con­tra­cep­tion.

About 40 deer are found dead in Oak Bay each year, mostly hit by ve­hi­cles or en­tan­gled or im­paled on fences.

“That’s not a hu­mane way to re­duce our deer pop­u­la­tion,” said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

Conflict with hu­mans and small do­mes­tic an­i­mals is also a con­cern.

A cull in Oak Bay in 2015 saw 11 deer killed in two weeks. Jensen calls it a “rel­a­tive suc­cess,” but it cre­ated a rift in the com­mu­nity and sparked protests by the B.C. SPCA and an­i­mal-rights ac­tivists.

That led to adop­tion of the cur­rent pro­gram, of which the first phase was con­ducted from Feb. 18 to March 23 by the UWSS’s wildlife vet­eri­nar­ian, a bi­ol­o­gist and team of volunteers.

They se­dated the 20 does and fit­ted them with GPS col­lars weigh­ing less than one pound and with colour-coded tags for fu­ture iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The process, in­clud­ing re­cov­ery and re­lease, took a max­i­mum of 30 min­utes, ac­cord­ing to the so­ci­ety.

Five young bucks were in­ad­ver­tently cap­tured and then ear tagged, but were not fit­ted with GPS col­lars. Forty mo­tion-sen­sor cam­eras were in­stalled to pho­to­graph the an­i­mals as they wan­der.

This first phase of the pro­gram is ex­pected to pro­vide base­line data on the ecol­ogy of ur­ban deer, move­ment pat­terns, den­sity, and pop­u­la­tion size.

They don’t have a pop­u­la­tion count yet, but Oak Bay’s mayor said he knows for cer­tain “there’s too many deer in Oak Bay.”

A decade ago, there were years when just one or two were found dead in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, said Jensen. For the past five to six years, about 40 have been found dead each year.

There’s been a “rapid es­ca­la­tion” over the last six years, he said.

“It’s en­cour­ag­ing to see the first phase was com­pleted suc­cess­fully and now the sec­ond phase will hope­fully be un­der­way in the next six to 12 months.”

In the sec­ond phase, does will be given the drug Zona­s­tat-D. It blocks fer­til­iza­tion by trig­ger­ing pro­duc­tion of an­ti­bod­ies that bind to the pro­tein en­ve­lope sur­round­ing the egg. It’s “very very safe,” said Hux­ter. The does will ei­ther be cap­tured and the drug in­jected by hand or the deer will be shot with a con­tra­cep­tive dart that will ad­min­is­ter the drug and mark the spot for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. “It’s a lot faster, more ef­fi­cient and cost ef­fec­tive to use a dart­ing ri­fle,” said Hux­ter.

An is­sue with the drug is that it’s only ef­fec­tive for 12 to 22 months, said Hux­ter.

UWSS in­cludes sci­en­tists, wildlife vet­eri­nar­i­ans, bi­ol­o­gists, grad­u­ate stu­dents, an­i­mal be­haviourists and com­mu­nity volunteers.

It is work­ing with a lab­o­ra­tory in the hopes of de­vel­op­ing a vac­cine that is ef­fec­tive for five to seven years, he said.

The vac­cine would not be harm­ful to a hu­man or preda­tor if the deer were con­sumed, said Hux­ter.

If suc­cess­ful, UWSS hopes the pro­gram will serve as an ef­fec­tive, com­mu­nity-sup­ported tem­plate for ur­ban deer man­age­ment around North Amer­ica.

Times Colonist

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of a con­tra­cep­tive vac­cine is be­ing planned to man­age deer in Oak Bay after 20 does were ra­dio-col­lared last month.

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