Under Fairfax plan, vets will remove deer ovaries

FAIRFAX, Va. – Fairfax City wants to become the first community in Virginia to use surgical sterilization to control its deer population.

All that’s needed to go forward with the experiment is final approval from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and approval looks likely.

The man who will lead it, wildlife biologist Dr. Anthony DeNicola, has run similar programs in other parts of the country.

He estimates the City of Fairfax has between 50 to 75 deer within its 6 square miles, fewer than he initially expected.

Under the five-year program, the female deer will undergo surgery to remove their ovaries, with a goal of having all the does sterilized by the second year.

“The reason we target females in deer is they’re a polygamous species. Meaning one male will copulate or breed with multiple females,” DeNicola told city councilmembers this week.

He said the city’s density will actually help researchers get their job done.

“Your deer are used to seeing cars. You probably pull in your driveway, you see them, they ignore you. We take advantage of that.”

“When we come along … usually escorted by an (police) officer, they can’t differentiate our presence from anyone else’s or obviously our intention.”

DeNicola said when conducting sterilization programs in other cities, they’ve typically stayed on public roads and in parks.

“We’ll only engage deer if we see them on a front lawn, in a park area, some type of road frontage area,” he said.

Does will be shot with tranquilizer darts, carefully transported to a central location for surgery and given numbered ear tags before being released.

Some does will be fitted with something else.

“We’ll have 20 individuals that will have individual radio collars that are trackable.”

Nicola said in the past, he’s used six different trusted veterinarians to conduct the procedures.

“We feel comfortable that the animals are treated humanely, and that we can do this in a reasonably efficient manner.”

DeNicola said typically the cost of the sterilization program is about $1,000 per deer, but that can drop to $500 per deer if volunteer veterinarians are used.

In Fairfax City’s case, grant money will cover many of the costs.

DeNicola said this is a good time of year to start the program and pending final approval, it will launch within weeks.

Watch DeNicola’s entire presentation to city leaders:

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