Candid camera catches deer

Friday, October 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:02 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Forget pop idols. Step aside, movie stars. Who cares about sporting heroes? The new celebrities in town are white-tailed deer.

“Deercam,” a camera mounted on the heads of deer, will provide up-close and personal footage of the mammals feeding, breeding, grooming, fighting and generally messing around.

Josh Millspaugh, MU assistant professor of natural resources, devised the first-of-its-kind reality project to help others see the world through the eyes of a deer.

“Not seeing what the animal sees limits our knowledge,” Millspaugh stated in a news release. “We don’t see what the animal is doing and why they’re doing it. Knowing that why is critical to our understanding.”

Millspaugh and his team mounted battery-powered wireless video cameras on two male and one female white-tailed deer. The team hopes the resulting 200 hours of footage will help determine how deer react to vehicles. This research could then decrease collisions with vehicles. The study should also help with deer population issues and give an indication as to how often the animals interact with livestock.

Millspaugh and his colleagues previously relied on remote techniques such as radio transmitters or Global Positioning System collars to study deer behavior. The new method will show the team what plants deer eat and how they respond to humans and other animals.

For the two-week study, the deer were tranquilized and placed in a 10-acre area. An electronic signal collected and transmitted sound and images.

Despite the size of the equipment, Millspaugh stated the deer acted normally, and that he thinks the camera and battery equipment did not affect the deer behavior.

Deer behavior has been captured on film before. Mitch Strodtman, who manages the deer-hunting supply company MO-Whitetail Inc., has used his own version of “deercam” for some time.

“I’ve been attaching 35-millimeter cameras in different locations to find out more about the deer,” Strodtman said. “Each camera takes 150 pictures, and they’re heat motioned to pick up the movement of the deer.”

The MU study, conducted in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation, took place at the Charles W. Green Memorial Conservation Area near Ashland. The projectalready caught the attention of the National Science Foundation, which donated $1 million for more advanced “deercam” studies.

Most of the grant will be used to develop smaller, longer-lasting, higher-resolution cameras, with improved devices that can adjust camera angles and widen the field of vision. Additionally, “deercam” footage will be made available on the Internet.

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