by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
This the Dumbest Question of the Decade?
Cranbrook Councillor's Query
It probably was not the dumbest
question I've ever heard, maybe not even the dumbest of, say, the last
decade. But if not the dumbest, it was certainly in the running.
paraphrase, but it went something like, 'What do I tell the mother of a
child who has been hurt by a deer?' What perhaps made it extra-dumb was the
fact that it was made by someone who was actually elected by the people
(mind you, when I review all the super-dumb things that elected politicians
have done through my lifetime, I realize that being elected in no way
guarantees the presence of an IQ above that of a watermelon). The question
was asked of my colleague, Liz White, by a councillor for the city of
Cranbrook, British Columbia, where, asdiscussed
last week I went to help with the urban deer issue.
unusual about conflicts between people and deer, and Liz and I and many
others have worked successfully with many communities to help to effectively
resolve various concerns about deer. Many of those concerns, when examined
objectively based on demonstrable facts, prove to be bogus.
Click on image to see larger version.
(Photograph by Adam Lambert-Gorwyn)
In fact, it was more than three decades ago that I first investigated
deer that people wanted culled, at the Peterborough Crown Game Preserve,
here in Ontario. If the deer were not culled, we were told, they would
sooner or later face mass starvation as a result of having exceeded their
'Carrying capacity' is the name given to the number of
animals who are supported by the resources, food and shelter, available.
Those of us opposing the cull were deemed to be well-meaning but cruel -- if
we got our way, starvation was inevitable. That's when I invented the term
'pre-emptive euthanasia': kill it now so it won't suffer later.
got our way and that predicted starvation has yet to occur, many generations
of deer later.
At times we've been told that deer carry diseases in
areas where those diseases have never occurred, and we've been told that
collisions between deer and cars are increasing where police reports show
But while everyone should respect the fact that a mule
deer buck can weigh over 100 kilograms (about 220 pounds) and a white-tailed
deer can be even larger (although most animals of both species are
significantly smaller), and that they have sharp hooves and at certain times
of years bucks are armed with the sharp points of multi-pronged antlers,
they are not particularly dangerous. The risk they pose is recognized in
Ontario (where we have no mule deer, just the white-tails) but is not a
fixation. Ironically in British Columbia, land of grizzly bears and pumas,
we encountered a concerted effort to portray mule deer as very dangerous
Liz gave a detailed and nuanced reply to the councillor's
hypothetical question, but that did not appease him. I then suggested that
he do what to me was obvious: tell the hypothetical mother to take the
hypothetical kid to the hospital.
The need to take a child to the
hospital because of deer injury happens, well, virtually never. That's
because deer simply are not that dangerous. Sure, they should not be
approached, they should not be made tame and yes, there are people who are
intimidated by the mere appearance of them (and other wildlife; I've had
folks phone me in a panic about a hawk in the yard, robins nesting on the
window ledge or a raccoon on the roof). We can't honestly say they pose no
risk, but the risk level is too low to even be estimated.
This is in
contrast to, say, bounce houses. I had never heard of them until a few days
media reported that in the United States an average of 30 kids a day get
sent to the hospital because of injuries in bounce houses, which are
inflatable structures that kids can bounce around in and are apparently
popular at birthday parties and other child-friendly events. There have even
been deaths, and yet I suspect the councillor has never bothered to get them
banned. He advocates killing deer for a threat that has yet to materialize
because the fear is there (two of his constituents claim they were chased by
A survey of the average number of deaths caused by animals
in the United States, per year, showed stinging insects to be the most
dangerous (bees are attracted to flowers, deer eat flowers, so by the
councillor's reasoning deer should be encouraged since one of their 'crimes'
is flower consumption!) causing an average of 53 deaths per year. Dogs come
in second, at 31, and horses third at 20. Of course far more people get a
lot closer to far more dogs and horses than they do to deer, but that's the
point, or part of it. 'Education' should include telling people to not
approach deer, and never, ever corner them.
We have advocated for
what works, a multi-pronged approach that includes a process that goes by
the name 'hazing,' which simply means trained border collies (watch
this video) move
deer away from urban areas back into surrounding wilderness. It does require
provincial approval, which depends on it being connected to research, which
is actually what is best for all in evaluating its efficacy. It is
especially important that fawns are born away from urban areas as they are
far less likely to enter town than the animals who are born within city
limits. But education and by-laws (what Americans call 'ordinances') that
prohibit feeding deer, are also important. Fear-mongering is not necessary,
and can lead to very dumb questions.