Fawns are bouncing through Oak Bay this spring as always, stirring plenty of confusion among residents.
The confusion comes from the red tags the does are wearing, as Oak Bay is in the first spring after 60 does were tagged and given a contraceptive to prevent pregnancies.
“We’ve had a lot of people posting to social media that the does have a tag and a fawn so the [contraception] isn’t working,” said Alina Fisher, a wildlife biologist on the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society research team.
What residents might have missed is that when the UWSS’ immuno-contraception pilot program inoculated the majority of Oak Bay does last year, they also tagged another 20 does as a “control group” that was not given the contraceptive.
“The control does will have bright pink tags with red tape on them [as pictured here],” Fisher said. “The other colour combinations are for the [contraceptive-treated] deer.”
The program identified and tagged most of the does in Oak Bay but there are also likely to be a few unaccounted does that are not tagged at all. They are not part of the study. There are about 60 that were tagged and inoculated, and their tags are different from the 20 tagged does that are not inoculated.
The reason for the colour combinations is that the program also involves using motion-activated “camera-traps” hidden around Oak Bay. The combinations allow researchers to identify which of the 60 does is in a photo.
“We had to leave a control group so we could see how effective the contraception is [compared to the natural birth rate], and that control group is likely to have fawns but we don’t know how many,” Fisher said.
And there is bound to be a doe or two that were inoculated with the contraceptive but still had a fawn this spring.
Those numbers are slowly being collected now using camera traps but also through the help of the public. It will take the better part of the summer for researchers to confirm which does have had fawns or not.
Researchers encourage residents to share photos and information that they see. Send photos with an address and time stamp to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on the program and the deer tags visit uwss.ca/2020/06/01/2042/.
“The goal of the project is to find the sweet spot in terms of how many does need to be vaccinated given the effectiveness of the vaccine,” Fisher said.
At this time that means reducing the local population to a manageable level, a level debated by Oak Bay residents. The goal is not to eradicate the deer altogether as they are a native species and are valued by the First Nations.
In an Oak Bay survey earlier this year, the dividing line leaned towards keeping the deer population though many assert they can not keep a garden without intensive netting.
Eventually the province could approve this method for all municipalities, at which point each city could approve to adopt it.
“For now all eyes are on Oak Bay, but potentially all of Greater Victoria could use immuno-contraception to reduce the deer,” Fisher said.