The Whitehall Deer Research Facility has been key in unlocking an understanding of the whitetail’s reproductive processes and behaviors, scent and vocal communications, visual and hearing capabilities, disease agents, and population social structure. We have also investigated the importance of the timing of deer reproduction, the use of fertility control drugs to manage deer populations in urban areas, the use of various drugs to capture wild deer, testing of new research technologies, feeding preference trials and plant repellent studies.
The heart of the captive deer facility is its 19-stall barn and deer-handling system, which is connected to outside paddocks.
The barn is directly connected to a round structure known as a rotunda. This structure allows us to direct deer into the barn, handling system or outside runway.
Once inside of the rotunda, deer are directed through an opening leading to the next component of the handling system.
Once through the opening, deer are guided through an upward sloping hallway, leading to the restraint device.
Before installing the deer handling system in 1996, we had to chemically immobilize deer to collect important biological samples. Because the cradle presents less risk to deer and researchers, the UGA Animal Care and Use Committee helped us to acquire funding for its purchase and installation.
The restraint device (left photo) is called a deer cradle. It's like a cattle squeeze chute except it is designed so that the floor can be lowered, leaving a deer's legs suspended. This device is equipped with a digital scale to facilitate weighing deer. Once a deer is in the cradle, we can safely and humanely collect blood, give medication, remove antlers and any other routine husbandry.
When handling of the deer is complete, we lower its feet to the floor and it is guided back into an outside paddock or into a barn stall via a system of runways, as pictured below.
We modify barn stalls as needed to conduct various deer behavior and physiology experiments. The deer in the above photo was one of several trained to participate in a deer vision experiment. The machine in the background can be programmed to perform numerous functions to help the deer to communicate to us what it can and can not see.
The Whitehall Deer Research Facility also serves a major teaching and outreach role. Undergraduate wildlife students learn about deer biology and research and animal-handling skills that will help prepare them for future careers. Each year, the facility hosts many grade school-aged through college-aged students during informative guided tours.