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$3 million dollar ‘Deer Vasectomy’ plan may not contain population

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STATEN ISLAND — City Hall and the Parks Department didn't want to kill Bambi or his father.

Yet with an exploding deer population on Staten Island causing an uptick in Lyme disease and a hike in buck/vehicle collisions, the city decided to launch a 'first of its kind' project that would cost $3.3 million dollars over three years: deer vasectomies.

"We are seeing a lot of Lyme disease," said Katrina Toal, Chief Operations Coordinator for the Wildlife Unit in the New York City Parks Department.

"These are white-tailed deer that live on Staten Island," she explained. "The goal of this project is to sterilize between 98 and 100 percent of the male (deer) on Staten Island."

The city hired an organization called White Buffalo to perform the vasectomies, and Toal said the group probably sterilized about 90 percent of the deer living in the borough in the first phase of the project last fall and spring. The city began phase two in August.

"In a populated area like New York City, you just can't use conventional methods," said John Kilcullen, director of Conference House Park on the southern tip of Staten Island.

"The last few years, they've been very active. You see them 24/7."

With no natural predators seeking the deer on the island and no hunting allowed in New York City, the population has boomed to about 2,000.

"They should have just tranquilized them and brought them upstate," said long-time resident Mike O'Keefe.

But that might not have sat well with upstate counties already dealing with tick problems.

Toal explained that White Buffalo uses a bait of corn kernels to attract the deer to one spot.

"Once the deer is darted, they'll do the surgery. Sometimes, they'll do the surgery out in the field. Other times, they take the deer into a trailer."

Toal told PIX11 all the deer that get vasectomies get ear tags with a number.

We saw a yearling with the number #333 on its ears at Ocean View Cemetery in Oakwood. The deer was limping, and Toal told us it's possible the animal was hit by a vehicle and is living out its life having trouble moving.

Toal said there's been a low mortality rate due to vasectomies.

"They have had to euthanize five deer due to 'capture-related' issues," Toal said. "So either a dart might have injured them or something went wrong with the surgery."

Professor Paul Curtis of Cornell University spoke to PIX11 by phone about the project.

"You can't expect a quick reduction in population," Professor Curtis said. "The challenge is going to be with deer immigration and whether or not other bucks immigrate to the island."

Mike O'Keefe predicted, "They're only gonna swim across from New Jersey anyway, across the Arthur Kill."

Dr. Curtis observed, "Deer, actually, are fairly good swimmers."

Even though 720 bucks and yearlings were sterilized last year, male deer are known to mate with multiple females and the birth rate this year was consistent with recent years.

The mating season starts in late October and through November and even sterile male deer will have strong sex drives.

"They'll get more active and more agitated as they look to mate," Kilcullen said.

And that's when road kill increases.

"It's a 'Catch 22'" Mike's wife, Jill O'Keefe said. "What do you do with them? Do you kill them? Do you sterilize them? They're God's creatures."

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