Deer Management

Project Overview

Bald Head Island provides excellent habitat for the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Since there is no hunting allowed on Bald Head Island and there are few incidents of mortality due to vehicle collisions, the population thrives and can reach unsustainable numbers. Previously, the deer population has been managed using an annual cull to maintain the population around 200 individuals to ensure minimal impacts to the maritime forest, which provides invaluable ecosystem services to the island. However, through the efforts of a group of concerned citizens non-lethal management is currently being tested using immunocontraception. Immunocontraception works to control animal populations by prohibiting an animal from reproducing through the use of injected contraceptives. For this project, female deer are vaccinated with a tested and EPA approved pharmaceutical drug called GonaCon™, which is produced by the USDA Wildlife Services.

This program is the first and only permitted deer immunocontraception program in North Carolina and as such serves as a test case for this type of non-lethal population control. This project is a collaborative effort between many partners, including the Village of Bald Head Island, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission, the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, and the Bald Head Island Conservancy.

Questions about our deer program?  Email our Conservation Department darrow@bhic.org and we will get back to you!


Project Protocol

Our team is using the birth control vaccine, Gonacon™, which is administered to female deer. To vaccinate the deer, we must first anesthetize them using a dart gun to remotely administer anesthesia drugs. Darting takes place from baiting stations established around the island as well as from roadsides, at dusk and into the night. Public, pet, and wildlife safety are a top priority and no darting takes place without full consideration of surroundings. Communications protocols are in place to coordinate with the Public Safety Department.

Once the deer is anesthetized, we vaccinate her, assess her health, apply tracking devices, and inject a reversal drug to counteract the anesthesia. To assess deer health we check her age, general physical condition, and draw blood to test for disease. This information will allow us to closely monitor the health of our deer herd and can impact future management decisions. To monitor the health of the deer after anesthesia we apply a lightweight radio collar to track the deer and ear tags to identify individuals.


Deer Project Updates

Currently, the Bald Head Island white-tailed deer population is below the target herd size. This, combined with the reduced pregnancy rate, indicates that the immunocontraception program has been an effective, although expensive, management method. The Conservancy and Village of BHI have decided to suspend the immunocontraception program temporarily and we will assess its necessity in the next year. The Conservancy continues to track deer population size using summer spotlight survey and fall camera index methods.

Deer Darting Reports