The Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society’s (UWSS) work in Oak Bay could lay the foundation for new urban animal mapping techniques.
The UWSS recently released a report that found with 95 per cent confidence that between 72 and 128 adult deer live in Oak Bay. For many residents the study is just one more step towards using an immunocontraceptive vaccine on the deer to stem population growth. But for the scientific community the methods used by the UWSS, headed by Dr. Jason Fisher, are equally important.
This population estimate was done using 20 collared deer and 39 remote cameras deployed around Oak Bay. The collars are equipped with GPS, while the cameras are motion triggered.
A few other teams use similar technology around the world, but not many, according to Fisher. Banff National Park uses similar techniques to track grizzly bears. In the Alberta oil patch, researchers have also used similar methods to track animals. However, both of those areas are much larger and less urban than Oak Bay.
“Here in Oak Bay, people are looking pretty closely at what we found because it’s a pretty small system. That’s the difference between this system and a lot of the other ones that this is being used in,” said Fisher. “So there’s a lot of eyes looking to see how this is going to work, and what kind of answers that we’re going to get out of this because it could revolutionize how we go about doing wildlife studies of this kind. Both in urban landscapes and in regular landscapes.”
By using a two-pronged GPS and remote camera approach to study a specific population, the UWSS created deer density maps with a high degree of confidence. The traditional method for such research would be aerial surveys, which are not as accurate Fisher said.
“By putting this carpet of cameras over top of Oak Bay, we can get a pretty fine scaled map of where the deer are, and where the deer aren’t. That’s what allowed us to estimate the density, but also map the relative density to different places across Oak Bay. It’s pretty groundbreaking, this is new tech,” Fisher said. “The textbook on this was only published in 2014, and new techniques that build on the old ones are coming out every few months and that’s what we’re using and updating our models with. So it’s really leading edge stuff. I’m pretty proud of what Oak Bay, the province and UWSS has achieved with this.”
Although there are some missing links in the data released so far – notably deer gender ratios and fawn numbers – it provides a solid foundation for even more accurate statistics in the future. A fact sheet the UWSS provided to Oak Bay council and residents during the Feb. 19 committee of the whole meeting, says future analyses would show demographic changes throughout the seasons, more detailed movement patterns, and features of the urban landscape where deer choose to spend their time.
During that meeting they also said they are on track to administer the first batch of immunocontraceptive vaccine in the fall.