How Disney Propelled the Need for Deer Management in New York City

Last night Community Board 3 of Staten Island held their monthly meeting for Parks and Recreation in conjunction with the Environmental Board. They had one message for the night – There must be Deer Management efforts in Staten Island. They presented a lengthy Powerpoint presentation covering the history of White-tailed Deer in Staten Island, the problems presented by their rapidly growing population, and the possible solutions to control and maintain this growth.

English: Screenshot of Bambi and Faline from t...

Screenshot of Bambi and Faline from film Bambi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in 2008, the community board tried to push the need for Deer Management, but they were unsuccessful with their plan. They received comments like “Oh, the poor deer … the deer aren’t bothering anyone.” Ultimately Disney is left to blame for this skewed perception of the peaceful and harmless deer. Thank you Bambi for filling the world with your beautiful thoughts of deer frolicking through the meadows, catching beautiful flowers in their antlers, and falling in love with beautiful does. This is far from any happy ending.

Staten Island, known as the “borough of parks”, has developed into a beautiful hybridization of  both a rural and urban environment. Older Staten Island residents have watched the rural farm lands replaced with real estate and shopping plazas. One would think that with all this development there would not be much of a habitat left for these animals to live. Because of this, deer sightings along the highways or in public parks have become an oddity, welcomed and enjoyed by the residents. The people who are uneducated about the severity of issue only add fuel to the fire by entertaining and feeding these deer.

A deer swimming from Prall’s Island onto the Staten Island shore. (Photo credit: Staten Island Advance)

Where did they come from? The white-tail deer presence on Staten Island can be linked back to 1639. Through an archaeological dig of a Indian grave site, scientists discovered deer bones. Their conclusion was the deer was one of the biggest sources of game for the Native Indians. During the 1800s, around the time of the American Revolution, the British took base on Staten Island. They had wiped out the deer population in their efforts to survive. The 1900s were not looking any better for the deer. Before Teddy Roosevelt‘s new environmentalist laws there were extreme cases of deforestation and unregulated hunting. Fast forward to 2000 and the deer emerge in numbers larger than ever. One hypothesis is that they swim over from New Jersey to reach the enticing greenery across the bay. Another, that they were breeding on Prall’s Island (an island of the West shore of Staten Island owned by the Department of Parks and Recreation as a bird sanctuary) and slowly made their way back to the island.

Injured Deer running around the streets. (Photo Credit: Staten Island Advance)

Unlike the beautiful love story depicted in Bambi, bucks will reproduce with any doe that it spots. A doe need only be two years old in order to reproduce and often enough they produce twins or even triplets. A single buck and doe could produce a population well over 50 deer within a few years. With the deer population growing 40-50% per year and with no form of management in place for controlling their numbers, eventually other animals will have their habitats altered… including our own. The deer approaching the streets and highways are not trying to become friends with us, it means they are running out of room and have no other place to turn.

How can we accomplish this? The truth is, there is no one solution because everyone has their own version of what could work versus what will work. Some previous courses of actions tested such as controlled hunting, sharpshooters, toxins, and birth control were presented at the meeting, but were quickly dismissed. Although some animal management approaches have been found to be successful in upstate New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, one of the state troopers present at the meeting said it best, “New York City is its own animal”. New York has a plan for these animals, but it is not good in New York City.

Eventually this will become a bigger problem. But the squeaky wheel will always get the oil. I truly believe that until this becomes an issue in any of the other boroughs, nothing will be done to combat the Staten Island deer population. Here Staten Island adopts its other nickname, “the forgotten borough”. Action may not be too far off in the future. There have been reports of deer sightings in northern Manhattan and in portions of Central Park. If these deer reproduce as quickly as the research shows, officials will have no other option but to take a stance. The deer will only get bolder in their ventures over time but until that urgency is there to act, don’t expect to be seeing less of Bambi.

Until that day comes it is important to educate people of how they should avoid interaction with the deer as much as possible. Not only for the sake of keeping them out of the neighborhoods, but to avoid health risks such as the transfer of deer ticks. One of the older women in attendance had received Lyme Disease only from tending to her garden in recent years. She attributes this to the numerous deer she sees passing through her backyard in search of food daily.

Deer management is inevitable, but its time is not now. If Michael Bloomberg is so insistent on banning the “Big Gulp“, obviously the city’s focus is elsewhere.

Don’t feed the deer! Concentration of deer around human food sources leads to increased risks of disease transmission, local habitat destruction, aggression among deer, and the potential for deer-human conflicts.  –Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries


2 thoughts on “How Disney Propelled the Need for Deer Management in New York City

  1. An interesting post; management of urban wildlife is a topic which is quite contentious. I agree that ‘cutesifying’ wild animals and taking the ‘wild’ out of them skewers public perception. I have a growing fascination for the ‘urban eco-niche’ and way wild creatures are adapting to our urbanising planet.

  2. You are 100% correct — do not feed the deer. But It has nothing to do with Disney. Deer, like cats and racoons, are opportunistic species. They thrive on human activities. Even in areas with many, many hunters, deer will multiply given ample forage and breeding space. As human development sprawls, so do deer (and cat) populations. Never feed wildlife. I live in Florida and alligator feeders sometimes become dinner for the very wildlife they think they are ‘helping.’ In California, hikers are sometimes mauled and killed by puma, big cats. The answer is in preventing urban sprawl and educating the public about opportunistic species. I write this as I hear the garbage cans being knocked over by the raccoon yet again. He went to great lengths to get my rooster out of a (I thought) secured pen. Now the rooster is his dinner.

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