Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Being Kind to Urban Deer: Thinning Herds Without Violence

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, to try birth control to deal with too many deer

I always like to try to follow up a story of horrific animal abuse, such as that which occurs in rodeos, with a more positive story about how we should interact with nonhuman animals (animals). And, lucky for me and for my heart, I found a good one that I hope will serve as a model for other communities.

Urban deer have become a "problem" in many different communities across the United States because there are simply too many of them. I put the word problem in quotation marks because when we get down to why this is so it's because we are the problem because of our incredibly selfish drive to expand our own communities at the expense of those of other animals.

Many communities have resorted to "humanely" killing deer but now there's an option that I hope will be widely adopted. In a recent essay in the New York Times called, "A Kinder, Gentler Way to Thin the Deer Herd" by Lisa Foderaro, Hastings-on Hudson's (New York) Mayor Peter Swiderski "has settled on a less violent approach: birth control. In an experiment to be undertaken with assistance from Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy, Hastings hopes to become the first suburb in the United States to control deer through immunocontraception, using the animal’s own immune system to prevent it from fertilizing offspring." This appears to be a change in heart on the mayor's part because when I was searching for more information on the "deer problem" in this small town I came across a petition calling for his replacement (see also) because of, among other things, his attitude toward the deer. Be that as it may, birth control, rather than violent killing, is a good way to go. 

"Violence is not how we deal with neighbors we don’t like”

Dr. Alan Rutberg, the director of Tuft's center, calls the idea "brilliant." He has successfully used immunocontraception in self-contained areas such as Fire Island and elsewhere resulting in a 50% decrease in deer numbers over five years. Dr. Rutberg notes, “Deer have entered our backyards and essentially become unruly guests ... We are bound by suburban rules in dealing with them, and violence is not how we deal with neighbors we don’t like.”

What I really like about this program is not only will deer not be killed but also that more than 50 residents of this town's "crunchy-granola culture" have volunteered to work on this pioneering program and an animal rights group has donated $12,000 to help it along. 

I hope this program gets wide coverage because killing animals into whose homes we've moved just isn't the way to go about dealing with them. Peaceful coexistence needs to be the way in which we live with urban neighbors and birth control is a wonderful alternative to killing these magnificent animals. It's a method that allows us to rewild our hearts and to expand our compassion footprint by not wantonly trumping the lives of other animals who find themselves trying hard and largely failing to live in an ever-expanding human-dominated world. 

 

 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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