By Gabby Pardo and Josh Spitz
Ninety deer will receive a new contraceptive in March for a study at Head of the Harbor to tackle village’s deer population.
The village is also using face recognition along with microchips, such as ones for tracking pets, on wildlife.
“The contraception technology we use – PZP, the porcine zona pellucida immunocontraceptive vaccine – was first developed and tested on horses in the late 1980’s by Dr. Irwin Liu at the University of California, Davis,” Dr. Allen Rutberg, from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University said. “Because we know that the PZP-22 vaccine works well in deer, our interest now is in testing technologies that will make it easier and less costly for communities to use contraception to manage deer.”
The study is the culmination of a process that began in 2016, when Rutberg, along with Kali Pereira from the Humane Society were invited by Avalon Park to inform the community about deer contraceptives.
Contraception is an alternative for regulating population other than hunting. Hunting would decrease the population while contraceptives are gradual and regulate it instead.
“We’ll set up five or six stations to attract the deer for a week,” Douglas Dahlgard, Head of the Harbor Mayor said. “We’ll send the team with paintball like devices to vaccinate the deer. They’ll be checked for diseases and pregnancies. It’s non-lethal and protects the existing deer. This makes them infertile for a period of time. We hope it lasts for a few years.”
The focus of the study will be reducing the need and stress to capture and handle deer to physically injecting the contraceptive Rutberg said. Multiple methods of tracking results will be attempted such as image processing systems being installed across the village along with antenna arrays to detect tracking microchips. Avalon Park, the headquarters for the study, will also install camera traps and count deer with drones.
Over half of the Head of the Harbor residents agreed in a 2016 survey that deer overpopulation is an issue.
The increase in deer has also impacted plants and agriculture. An overabundance of deer can “endanger public health and destroying native ecosystems,” according to a 2016 release by the Izaak Walton League of America, a national conservation organization.
“Those who are promoting this have to embrace patience,” DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist at the American Wildlife Institute, said. “As long as it is a long-term plan, you can reduce and maintain population.”
Environmental impact was a significant concern regarding overpopulation, as well as deer interfering with traffic.
“Too many deer have a negative effect on the environment because other animals have to survive,” Dahlgard said. “They don’t have natural predators except cars.”
Community members are being notified and involved with the study by giving consent to use their homes as base stations for the study, Dahlgard said.
“I see [deer] . . . probably every other night,” Tamryn Rosner, a resident of East Setauket said. “I do think it should be regulated because there have been several occasions where I almost hit one.”
The study will refrain from putting numbered livestock tags in their ears but just a regular tag instead, Rutberg said.
“Since there’s so many small side streets, there’s really no way to avoid the collision sometimes,” Natalie Hersh said, a resident of St. James who has hit a deer on the road before.
Fire Island and Hastings on the Hudson have successfully implemented the contraceptive technology, Rutberg and Dahlberg said.