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Scientist Backs Birth Control for Deer


News Times, Danbury CT - by Susan Tuz
September 29, 2007
Scientist Backs Birth Control for Deer

Wildlife preservationist Anthony Marr thinks fertility control can solve the problem deer overpopulation better than hunting. He talked about the subject Thursday night at the Newtown Meeting House in Newtown.

Marr worked in the Canadian outback for more than five years as a scientist for mining interests. His experience there led him to take courses in wildlife biology and to become an advocate for non-lethal deer management. "I developed a respect for the animals I saw in the wild," Marr said. "In the late 1990s, I went to India and worked on three Bengal tiger preserves, controlling the deer population there." Marr became interested in studies of deer fertility control vaccines in the U.S. and Canada. He believes culling deer herds by hunting leads to increased deer populations rather than reduced ones. He has come up with a method to vaccinate deer with contraceptive drugs that he thinks will be labor- and cost-effective. It is now being studied by the Environmental Protection Agency. "Vaccine delivery contraceptive GnHR (Gonacon) has been passed on from the FDA to the EPA. This is a sign that the vaccine is closer to the time when it will be approved for use," Marr said.

Marr said the major obstacle to using the vaccine is the labor-intensive nature of having to inject it into deer. But he believes a method he used in India to capture deer that strayed from the preserve would work for trapping deer in large numbers for vaccination. The method he recommends is to erect nylon netting corrals and bait the deer with food. The corrals would have gates they could enter but not exit. A hallway of nylon netting would be attached to the corral, and food would be used to entice the deer to enter the hallway. Scientists could then lift a flap on the hallway netting and inject the deer with the vaccine. They would lift another flap and tag the deer to show they had been vaccinated. State Department of Environmental Protection wildlife biologist Howard Kilpatrick questions Marr's idea.

"I don't know what the terrain is like in India, but I'm sure it is different than that in Fairfield County," Kilpatrick said Friday. "It doesn't sound feasible." Kilpatrick said there have been numerous studies with free-ranging white-tail deer in the U.S. in which fertility control didn't work. He noted that "too many vaccine-treated deer are still producing fawns" for fertility control to work at this point in the vaccine's development. "Things may change in the next 10 years," Kilpatrick said. "They may have a new agent that works on 95 percent of deer. Now the agent works on 60 to 70 percent of the deer on an average." Paul Curtis, the extension wildlife specialist with Cornell University, has studied fertility control in deer for several years -- using vaccines himself on test herds and following studies by his colleagues. Curits finds GnHR to be "very effective on deer population reduction, reducing pregnancies by 90 percent."

But the technique still requires booster shots every other year. "Contraception vaccine's scale is limited," he said. "GnHR can work in a small scale on a few square miles of herd travel. You can (vaccinate) a couple of hundred deer at a cost of $1,000 a deer. But that will work only in small, isolated parks. The scale is too big in large, suburban areas and large deer populations. " Marr still pushes for contraception over hunting. "Culling as a method is inhumane, cruel and does not give the effect wanted," he said. "For the first few months after the hunt, the number of deer is lower, but hunting only works for a short time." Marr cited numerous cases of controlled hunts where the deer population grew years after the hunts were started. This was due to an increase in available food, which resulted in increased reproduction.

One such case was at Monmouth Battlefield State Park in New Jersey. In 1990, Fish and Game officials "pushed through" an annual deer hunt there, Marr said. By 1998, the number of deer in the park had increased 27 percent from the time the hunt was initiated. "After nine years of killing 600 deer, hunting failed to reduce the deer herd," Marr said of the New Jersey park. But Carol Kandoth, a wildlife biologist with New Jersey Fish and Game, said Friday she did not know where Marr was getting his data. "Monmouth Battlefield State Park has its own deer management zone and they operate in special areas (where human use of the park is not extensive)," Kandoth said. "My records indicate a stable population there based on the hunts."

Contact Susan Tuz at stuz@... or at (203) 731-3352.

Anthony Marr, founder
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
www.HOPE-CARE.org 
www.MySpace.com/AnthonyMarr
www.ARConference.org 
Deer Options Enterprise (DOE)
www.DeerOptions.com

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