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The Secret Lives of Wild
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The Secret Lives of Wild Animals — Text-only | Flash Special Report

Burgeoning white-tailed deer populations across the United States have resulted in increased contact with other animals—including humans. Such now-common encounters can affect the health and environment of both the deer and their neighbors, with potentially serious consequences. There are an estimated 1.5 million vehicle-deer collisions in the United States each year, for example, resulting in 150 motorist deaths and $1.1 billion in vehicle damage.

To help establish sound programs to safeguard man, beast and property, wildlife biologists need better ways to directly observe deer movement and other activities over long periods, as well as a better understanding of the factors that influence their habits.

Direct observations over time—though often impractical—give the most accurate picture of an animal’s daily routine. Now, using a miniature, wireless video system mounted to the antlers of white-tailed deer, scientists can see the world almost literally through the animals’ eyes and remotely record and transmit the images for hundreds of hours.

The DeerNet research team, composed of wildlife biologists, electrical engineers and computer scientists, tested the system on deer that lived in a 10-acre, fenced conservation area. After the team attached the system to the antlers of male deer, or neck in the case of females, the device transmitted a video signal to a nearby base station. The researchers collected over 200 hours of “deercam” video that provided them with an undisturbed view of deer life while as they ate, fought, groomed, played and slept.

While proving the system worked, the unique video also yielded new insight into deer behavior. The team saw almost constant touching between the animals, for example, including mouth-to-mouth contact and grooming—actions that could play an important role in disease transmission. They also remotely cataloged the deer’s food preferences for more than 1 week.

The team is currently optimizing the state-of-the-art monitoring system and extending their studies to animals living in the wild.

1. Deercam footage revealed almost constant physical contact between deer, a finding that helps scientists better understand how diseases may be transmitted from animal to animal. Credit: Hal Korber, Pennsylvania Game Commission
2. By watching video obtained from the animal-mounted deercam, researchers are observing a deer’s natural habits firsthand. The new look into a deer’s decision-making process may help reduce the 1.5 million deer-related vehicle accidents that occur annually in the United States.
PD Photo