Wednesday, December 2, 2002

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Progressive Animal
Welfare Society

PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046

Kevin Mack
Nine Reasons to be Thankful
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

Thanksgiving week brought one change to the PAWS Wildlife Center for which all of the staff and volunteers were very thankful…the deer pen was finally empty. This thankfulness was not because the deer were in any way disagreeable animals, but because the piles of browse (in the form of alder, willow, maple and other leafy branches) that they require can be quite a challenge to supply. I need neither a calendar nor a change in the weather to alert me to the arrival of fall. All I need to hear is, "When are you going to release the deer?" to clue me in to the season. Still, it is best for the young black-tailed and mule deer to stay safely in the confines of their enclosure at PAWS until such time as they are "out of season", as they say. One can simply look at a copy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Big Game Hunting Rules and Regulations to ascertain when the deer will likely be released. Although there is much more food available for them earlier in the fall, I prefer to release deer when I can be reasonably sure that their diet will remain lead free.

Black-tail Deer

A Black-tailed Deer stays alert for danger at a release site near Carnation.

Preceding each deer release is the always-exciting deer roundup. The deer must be placed in release boxes for transport to the release site, and getting them contained can be a challenging task. For an animal whose primary form of defense is to run away, the prospect of simply walking into a transport box seems the opposite of appealing. Over the years, PAWS has tested a number of different techniques for herding the deer into the boxes, and some have been found to be more efficient than others. But this year, thanks to some handiwork by Facilities Caretaker Jim Green, we had a very effective chute system. The deer were herded one at a time into the funnel shaped chute that led into a small, dark, completely enclosed stall. Coupled to an opening at the back of the stall was the entrance to a deer transport box. A flashlight was placed so that it shined in through a hole at the back of the box to make it appear to the deer like there may be an exit in that direction. Fooled by, or possibly curious about the light, one or two of the deer entered their transport boxes of their own accord after being closed in the stall. The others required a little more encouragement to enter their boxes, and I provided this with the help of a large, padded piece of plywood. The piece of wood was nearly as wide as the stall, so as I held it in front of me and moved towards the deer, their only option was to retreat into the transport box. Once a deer entered a transport box, a sliding door was dropped closing them inside. The box was then placed on a truck, and an empty carrier was placed into position for capture of the next deer. The entire process was geared towards producing as little stress as possible for the deer and minimizing the risk of injury for both deer and humans.

Nine deer in all (eight Black-tailed and one Mule Deer) were released by the PAWS Wildlife Department this year. Most of their intake forms at the center tell essentially the same story, "Orphan: Mother killed by car." At least one of the deer, however, was a kidnapping victim. He had been found in a field by a couple that was unaware that it is normal for does to leave their fawns unattended for extended periods of time. Assuming the young animal was in need of help, they took him and kept him in their home for a day or two before contacting the WDFW. A wildlife agent responded and attempted, unsuccessfully, to return the fawn to its mother before transferring it to PAWS.

Black-tail Deer

PAWS Wildlife Department staff members look on as a Black-tailed Deer backs out of her transport box at a release site in Tenino.

Deer were released on three separate days in November. The first release took place on Tuesday the 19th. The roundup started at 7:30 am, and within an hour four of the Black-tailed deer had been successfully contained in their transport boxes. They were released on a 670-acre piece of private property just outside of Tenino. The boxes were lined up next to one another and all four doors were opened at once. Two of the deer emerged quickly and trotted a short distance away before stopping to assess their situation. The remaining two deer took their time exiting the transport boxes. When they made up their minds to vacate the boxes, they came out tail first. It was comical to watch them back slowly out of the boxes and even more amusing to see their looks of surprise when their heads finally emerged and they became aware of their new surroundings. After investigating their immediate area, all four deer gathered together and disappeared behind a stand of trees.

The second release, involving a single Mule Deer that had come from the east side of the Cascades, occurred on November 20th. At the suggestion of a WDFW Biologist, he was released in an area of Wenatchee National forest that contains good winter forage. After the door of the transport box was opened, the deer slowly poked his head out and looked around. He gathered up his courage and, noticeably trembling, stepped out into the world. He seemed to gain confidence with each step and as the trembling ceased he even took a few bounding hops. By the time he disappeared behind a nearby tree, he seemed to be much more at ease in his new environment. Hopefully he connected quickly with other Mule Deer in the area and found the additional security of being part of a herd.

Mule Deer

Wildlife Care Supervisor Corrie Hines watches as a newly released Mule Deer inspects his surroundings.

The release of the last four deer, all black-tailed, took place on Tuesday, November 26th. The roundup again went well, but every year there is one deer in the bunch that likes to try to set a new high jump record. This year's contender cleared both Wildlife Rehabilitator Emily Meredith and myself in one jump. Although I don't recommend it, having a deer jump over your head at 8 am will wake you up much quicker than drinking a cup of coffee. After her record attempt, the jumper was successfully captured, as were the other three deer. All four were taken to a piece of DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land near Carnation. They were released several miles beyond a locked gate in a clear cut surrounded by mixed forest. The clear cut contained an abundance of new plant growth that provided a ready food supply. Although slightly timid at first, the deer seemed to approve of the release site and some began sampling the local vegetation. After several minutes spent sniffing, listening and looking in every direction, they seemed to make a collective decision on which way to go. They moved together as a herd and faded into the distance. As they did so, they left behind the identity of "captive deer" that they had held for many months. Like their five former cage mates had done the week before, they became simply "deer" once again. Knowing that the deer were back where they belong gave me nine more reasons to be thankful on November 28th.

Wildlife Release tally: November 6 to November 26, 2002

1 Barred Owl
2 American Crows
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Horned Grebe
8 Black-tailed Deer
1 Mule Deer
3 Band-tailed Pigeons
4 Rock Doves
1 Townsend's Chipmunk
1 Fox Sparrow
10 Virginia Opossums
1 Chukar
1 English House Sparrow
1 Northern Saw-whet Owl
4 Eastern Gray Squirrels
1 Western Grebe

Wildlife Release tally: 2002 Year to Date
1,192 animals

All rights reserved. 2002 Progressive Animal Welfare Society