TMCNet:  Deer trackers: Scientists looking for help in locating newborn deer in Bloomington

[April 27, 2013]

Deer trackers: Scientists looking for help in locating newborn deer in Bloomington

Apr 28, 2013 (Herald-Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Needed: Help in locating newborn fawns. Any resident of Bloomington is asked to participate.

That's the message that Chad Stewart and Tim Carter want to broadcast throughout Bloomington.

The biologists are beginning a three-year research project to study the white-tailed deer population in Bloomington as they also study the deer in nearby Morgan-Monroe State Forest.

To begin the study, 25 newborn or very young fawns in the Bloomington area and 25 fawns in the rural area must be found and fitted with special radio collars. Once the fawns are being monitored, the researchers will study the animals' as they grow, leave their mothers and set up their own territories for at least six months, if not longer.

Because white-tailed deer give birth between late May and early June, that's when the biologists need to find and collar the young deer. And they need help from Bloomington residents who may see a fawn in their backyard or nearby woods.

Stewart, a deer biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife, said the hardest part is finding the fawns in the first place, adding that people often notice them in grassy areas or on the edges of wooded areas. He said that collaring young deer is a quick process, done in such a way that it doesn't harm the fawn or make it unacceptable to its mother.

"We're not looking for someone to grab the fawn themselves and then give us a call," Stewart said. "They shouldn't do that because they don't have a proper permit. We do." This won't be the first project where young fawns, known to stay in place without moving when approached, have been fitted with radio collars to track their movement. The collars for this project are an improved version made of neoprene fabric that stretches and has a series of folds sewn with cotton thread. When pressure is applied as the fawn grows, the collar is designed to increase in size in 1/2-inch increments.

"It will remain nice and snug but will allow the fawn to grow to accommodate the animal," said Carter, an associate professor of biology at Ball State University.

Once the collar is on, researchers will use radio triangulation to check on the animals every day for the first three months, Carter said. "The goal is for us not to interact with these fawns." If a fawn doesn't move within four hours, the timing of the beeps emitted by the collar will change to a very rapid pace. Then researchers will try to locate the collar to see if it's somehow fallen off the animal, or see if the deer has been killed. If it is dead, Carter said, researchers will switch into "CSI mode to investigate what was the cause of the mortality." Discovering if deer in urban or rural areas have more or less mortality is one of the questions Carter hopes the project will answer.

Carter also said the most difficult part of the project will be locating the young fawns. "Those people who stumble across a fawn, that would be the time they should contact us," he said. To report a fawn, use the hotline phone number or email the project. The phone number and email address are listed on the project website at http://deerstudy.iweb.bsu.edu.

Young fawns have an instinct to lie still and in place even when a predator approaches. It's that instinct the researchers hope to capitalize on when collaring the young animals so that no drugs or excessive force is needed. Researchers will work quickly, with special equipment to measure and weigh the deer before putting on the radio collar. The fawns will have a blindfold over their eyes to help keep them calm throughout the process.

Finding the fawns in rural areas may be even harder, Carter said. Since fewer people live in these areas, thermal imaging equipment will be used to help locate the fawns. "It's going to be challenging," he said.

But Carter believes the project will be worth the effort, giving researchers better data about the movement of fawns as they grow and mature as well as a comparison of survival rates between urban and rural deer populations. "It will shed a better light on the role fawns play," Carter said.

------ About the study To learn more about the fawn research project, go to http://deerstudy.iweb.bsu.edu.

If you find a fawn in the Bloomington area, you can call the fawn hotline at 812-822-3308 or email deerstudy@bsu.edu.

The study is budgeted to spend a little more than $250,000 for two years of field work followed by a year of data analysis and final report writing. The study is being funded by Ball State University and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

___ (c)2013 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) Visit the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) at www.heraldtimesonline.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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