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Posted 10.27.05

'Deercam' Lets Researchers Go Between the Antlers

Project Offers Unique Insight to Deer Habits, Could Help Address Deer-Traffic Collisions, Chronic Wasting Disease

COLUMBIA, MO -- As deer season begins across much of the country, thousands of hunters will be taking to the woods, eyes peeled for that trophy buck. Now a first-of-its-kind study by University of Missouri-Columbia researchers is allowing some deer to do all of the looking. The results could provide insight on several wildlife issues, including the deer-vehicle collisions and the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Josh Millspaugh, assistant professor of natural resources, and Zhihai He, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Mizzou, along with other researchers, have successfully mounted tiny, unobtrusive wireless video cameras on a male and a female white-tailed deer. The cameras give the researchers an up-close and personal look of not only how deer see their world, but how they behave away from the human eye and how they perceive each other.

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So far, the researchers have collected 200 hours of video showing feeding, bedding, mutual grooming, sparing matches between antlered deer and breeding activities. They believe these behaviors can help establish patterns and explain how wildlife diseases are spread.

"Until now we have had to use remote techniques such as radio transmitters or Global Positioning System collars to study wildlife behavior, but with these we still do not see what the animal sees," Millspaugh said. "Not seeing what the animal sees limits our inferences. We don't see what the animal is doing and why. Knowing that 'why' is critical to our understanding. We don't know what plants they are eating or how they respond to humans or other animals."

The study, conducted in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation, took place at the Charles W. Green Memorial Conservation Area near Ashland, Mo. This fenced, 10-acre area contained 11 deer including three adult males, one male fawn, five adult does and two female fawns.

The deer were tranquilized and fitted with battery-run cameras with miniature transmitters. Male deer had the cameras mounted on their antlers, while female deer wore a specifically designed neck-mounted camera. Deer were tranquilized. The battery-run cameras with miniature transmitters were mounted in the antlers of two male deer. A female deer wore a specially designed neck-mounted camera. The camera angles were adjusted to view the deer's mouths to better learn what plants they were eating. Images were collected onto a VHS tape by electronic signal.

Millspaugh said he was surprised by the degree of interaction among the deer, noting that they were in constant contact with each other.

The work also gained the attention of the National Science Foundation (NSF), netting a $1 million grant for more advanced studies. Much of the NSF grant will be aimed at developing smaller, longer lasting, higher resolution cameras. The cameras will have improved remote control devices that can adjust camera angles, widening the field of vision. Plans also call for placing the videos on an Internet Web site for public viewing.



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