A cruelty complaint was filed by an Ann Arbor resident who stumbled upon a disturbing scene on Tuesday morning: a young doe, dead in the middle of Ann Arbor’s Leslie Park Golf Course, with a tiny unborn baby deer nearby (graphic photos attached*). She reported walking the area daily and indicated the deer was not there the day before.
“The Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) has been providing wildlife services and responding to citizens’ concerns about wildlife for at least 50 years. In my 11 years here, I’ve not heard of a single report of a half-eaten deer in the middle of an open area in a public park or golf course, and people talk with us about everything animal related,” says Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV's CEO.
The golf course is one of fourteen Ann Arbor public parks and nature centers where a city-paid deer cull conducted by USDA sharpshooters is taking place.
Though a full diagnostic necropsy could not be performed due to damage and partial state of the body, an extensive examination was done by a veterinarian trained in necropsies with further consultation provided by a wildlife pathologist at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The exam confirmed the doe was an adult yearling. The vasculature of the neck was intact, and there was no evidence of blunt or sharp traumatic injuries, and no holes in the skin or tissue of the neck or head. All of her leg bones were intact; none were broken, suggesting that she had full capacity of her legs. Though no bullet was found, the carcass had been half eaten, exposing a small circular hole through the bone of her front rib cage (graphic photos attached*).
Although ballistics is beyond the scope of the animal necropsy, a former police officer and animal control officer consulted stated the doe's wound looked like a bullet hole.
Predation vs. Scavenging: Could the doe have been killed by a predator?
“As for predation, most canid attacks show evidence of bruising and injury around the neck and throat or the rear limbs of the animal if the predators opt to pull their prey down from the rear limbs. While the initial attack is often done without tooth punctures, where this kind of attack occurs, there is substantial bruising in the subcutaneous areas. I did not see evidence of this in the neck of this deer but there was not enough of the rear quarters left to determine,” says Dr. Carrie Allen, DMV.
“We currently have no evidence of attack. We only have evidence that she was partially scavenged. Because of the state of the body, we have no way to say for sure what killed her or may have made her vulnerable to attack. With inconclusive results and cause of death undetermined, our concern remains that she was shot but not killed as a part of Ann Arbor’s cull or by poachers. It’s possible she was killed or injured and slowly bled out, then eaten,” says Hilgendorf.
“We do feel confident in ruling out starvation. She showed no signs of emaciation,” says Dr. Allen, reporting the doe's remains weighed 52 pounds and several organs were still intact.
As to the most likely type of species involved in partially consuming the deer, Merritt Clifton, editor for Animals 24-7 writes, “I can tell you from my knowledge of coyotes which is extensive -- over more than 40 years of observation -- that they don’t leave carcasses unstripped. If they can’t strip a carcass down to bones overnight, they howl for other coyotes to help."
The USDA affirms coyote don’t generally take down healthy adult deer, as they’re opportunistic and will hunt smaller prey, as is readily available in the area. Furthermore, the USDA contractors have placed bait throughout the golf course and other parks as a part of the cull – bait that lures not only deer, but also other animals.
HSHV also received a report related to bait on the train tracks leading up to Leslie Park (photo attached*). The bait, a corn mixture, appears the same as the bait in the parks as part of the deer cull.
“So far no one has claimed responsibility for this and to our knowledge it has not yet been cleaned up. This is a serious concern. Even if accidental, it should be cleaned up. Baiting wildlife onto the train tracks is neither safe nor humane,” says Michele Baxter, HSHV’s cruelty and rescue manager.
HSHV investigators called the City to determine if culling had occurred recently in that area and to determine the type of bullets used. The calls were not returned.
“One wonders why the city of Ann Arbor won’t cooperate with this investigation. If they can show USDA sharpshooters weren’t in the golf course culling deer at that time, it seems it would be in their interests to make that public,” says Hilgendorf.
A recent lawsuit exposed emails from City staff to the DNR revealing that “several deer” had been killed as part of the cull this week. Locations were not disclosed. An Ann Arbor resident wrote that she “heard three shots Monday around 6:15 near Leslie park.”
When questioned by the complainant, the City replied quickly, saying they’d investigated, and the incident was not due to illegal hunting nor the cull. However, to HSHV’s knowledge, no City or USDA employee examined the deer, and neither has asked HSHV to see the body or for any additional information obtained by HSHV’s investigation.
An animal removal service, Alpha and Omega, arrived on the scene; the employee stated he’d been called to pick up and dispose of the animal.
“The only reason we were able to do any investigation into cause of death is because we arrived on the scene at the same time,” says Hilgendorf.
“This just adds to the concerns about lack of government transparency and accountability. The contractors for this cull, the USDA Wildlife Services, have committed animal cruelty in other states. There should be monitoring and more done to acknowledge and address concerns,” says Hilgendorf. We need to consider more deeply all of the unintended consequences of the cull -- on wildlife, and on people and our community. When your only focus is ‘kill deer,’ you tend to miss a lot. Even if not injured by the USDA, the Leslie deer can still be connected to the cull. Culls encourage poachers to take advantage of closed parks, baiting and the lifted ban on shooting in the parks; the bait and the blood from the shooting can attract predators; and sudden and extensive baiting with corn is known to make deer sick and therefore vulnerable. Exterminating animals in an attempt to control nature rarely works out well, doubly so in an open urban environment. It’s more than a stretch to say in absolute terms that there is no connection to illegal hunting or the cull.”
“We know all too well that survival is tough for all wild animals, but this is a situation where it is important to know what happened and try to minimize unnecessary harm,” says Baxter.
“The response shows an ongoing lack of regard for the citizens who use the parks, those who are worried about safety, and those who enjoy wildlife. So many people have said their enjoyment of the parks and their trust of City government has been forever changed by this cull. It’s just sad.”
The deer carcass will be examined for chronic wasting disease by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
*Photos were provided to the press and can be provided to others upon request.
About the Humane Society of Huron Valley
The Humane Society of Huron Valley, located in Ann Arbor, is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and relies solely on the generosity of our supporters to provide critical community programs and services. HSHV is an award-winning organization, recognized for our best practices and highest animal "save-rate" among all similar shelters in Michigan. Charity Navigator, the nation's top charity evaluator, awarded HSHV a 4-star ranking, the highest possible. The mission of HSHV is to promote the loving, responsible care of all animals in our community. HSHV is not affiliated with any other humane organization and does not receive funding from the United Way. More information can be found on HSHV’s website (hshv.org) and on our annual report (www.hshv.org/2014annualreport).