NIST headquarters is located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on a 578-acre campus 25 miles from Washington, D.C., just off Interstate 270. The campus features mature trees and ponds as well as many white-tailed deer and Canada geese. Walking paths and picnic areas provide easy and pleasant access for outdoor repasts, biking, walking, and jogging.

A Federal Agency’s Birth Control Program … For Deer, CENBlog, July 5, 2013While I worked at the agency between 2006 and 2008, its campus was home to approximately 200 deer. Today, the population is probably a little less than that—around 150 or so, says Michael E. Newman, a spokesman for NIST. But in the mid-1990s, about 300 deer resided on the grassy campus with its ponds and wooded canopies.
“That’s crazy for a campus that’s only a square mile,” says Allen T. Rutberg, director of the Center for Animals & Public Policy at the Cummings School for Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
First of all, a tract of land that size can’t provide enough nutrition for that many animals. And second of all, when the population gets that large, animal-human interactions don’t usually end well: In the 1990s, when the deer population was at its peak on campus, it wasn’t uncommon for about 25 deer to be killed annually in collisions with vehicles on and adjacent to the NIST campus.

Deer Immunocontraception at NIST, NIST Public Affairs Office, Jan 2009In the initial inoculation attempted in the spring of 1996, 39 NIST does were injected with their first dose of the PZP vaccine. They received a second dose before the fall 1996 mating season to confer a year’s resistance to pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the first year’s trial was not as successful as hoped. The adjuvant (carrier solution) used in 19 of the inoculations interfered with the vaccine’s ability to control conception. The other 20 used a different adjuvant that did not interfere and among these deer, the vaccine was about 70 percent effective.

Fortunately, subsequent vaccinations have proven more successful. In the first four full years of the program (1997-2000), the number of births was cut approximately 72 percent from 76 to 21. The new fawns in all three years were likely the result of conceptions in NIST does who did not receive any vaccine or only got one shot, in NIST does who were off the campus during vaccinations, in stray does who moved in after vaccinations were completed, or in a small number of NIST does where the vaccine failed to work.

Population-level effects of immunocontraception in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Wildlife Research, 2008Results of population effects of the porcine zona pellucida(PZP) immunocontraceptive vaccine, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. Annual population change at NIST was strongly correlated with population fertility (rP= 0.82,P= 0.001); when population fertility at NIST dropped below 0.40 fawns per female, the population declined. Contraceptive treatments at NIST were associated with a 27% decline in population between 1997 and 2002, and fluctuated thereafter with the effectiveness of contraceptive treatments.

Oh Deer!, Oct 11, 2006With a .22 caliber rifle and a cocktail of liquid contraception, Rick Naugle begins his hunt.
The Humane Society researcher, driving around the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, plans to pick off three, maybe four deer on this early autumn day as he tours the 578-acre Gaithersburg campus, an area ripe with the white-tailed animals. He spots. He aims. He shoots.
And another Bambi gets her birth control.

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