Is it possible to create a predator-free sanctuary where whitetail does can give birth and raise fawns? If so, would whitetail does recognize and use this safe labor-and-delivery area? Consider what happened recently in the UGA Deer Lab’s ongoing fawn-survival research.
As you know if you’ve been following my series of real-time reports from the field, things have begun to pick up with our study. We are busy trying to catch and collar as many fawns as possible so we can study the factors involved in their survival – or failure to survive. We are aided by vaginal implant transmitters (VITs) which were earlier implanted in pregnant does. The VITs alert us whenever one of these does gives birth, and we can track the VITs to the birth sites.
Recall that our study is taking place at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center. This forested private research facility happens to include four, 100-acre “predator exclosure plots” – or “predexes” for short. Upon construction in 2003, the predexes were subjected to an intensive predator removal program and are now surrounded by electric fencing and closely monitored by track counts. These track counts ensure the total exclusion of all medium-sized predators, including coyotes. However, adult deer can easily come and go from the predexes because the fences are only 4 feet high.
In January, while my research collaborator Mike Cherry was darting adult does to fit them with collars and vaginal implant transmitters (VITs), he trapped a few does near these predexes. While monitoring one of these does recently, our technicians found that her VIT was emitting the signal that told us she had given birth. This doe had typically been observed spending her time outside and around one of the predexes, but the night before her VIT began indicating a birth event, she jumped over the fence into the exclosure – and this is where we found her fawns.
Although we can only speculate as to why she chose to make this jump, it is entirely possible that she chose to give birth inside the predex because of the lack of predators. We will monitor ongoing use of these predexes by other does in the study, and I will be measuring the vegetation at identified fawn bed sites inside the predexes, both in the hope that we will better understand this interesting behavior we observed. Perhaps our findings will also point to additional steps deer managers can take when fawn survival is low and predators are the culprit.