Members of the Tennessee Valley Chapter of Safari Club International recently teamed up with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) officers and biologists to aid in the harvest of ten white-tailed deer for a research project known as an “abomasum parasite count.”
The project took place on the Enterprise South Nature Park and an adjoining section of the Enterprise South Industrial Park, formerly the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant. It seeks to determine the health of a white-tailed deer herds by counting the number of internal parasites in the abomasum, or fourth stomach chamber, of mature doe specimens.
“Measuring the internal parasite load of the deer provides a direct correlation to herd density and health,” TWRA big game biologist Ben Layton said. “If the parasite load is above a certain level, your deer herd is above carrying capacity or too large for the existing habitat to support.”
In most places, abomasum studies are not usually conducted every year; however, Layton has been monitoring the deer herd at Enterprise South more closely than normal.
“On Enterprise South, we have been doing it for the last three years,” he said. “The hunts here have been kind of controversial, and we want to make sure that we are looking at every herd health condition to ensure that we do need to take more deer out.”
The only way to collect an abomasum, of course, is to kill the deer. Layton said it has to happen in the summer because that is when the most parasites are present and provides the most accurate data. It is serious work with a scientific goal.
“Last year, the parasite count went down some,” Layton said. “So this year, if counts go down again—and since the deer are looking in good condition—hunting efforts may have gotten the [Enterprise South] deer herd back down to carrying capacity.”
It is Layton’s job to examine each deer, weigh it, age it and collect the abomasum that will be sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Georgia.
“We have to get in line with other similar research projects from all across the country,” Layton said. “TWRA likely won’t get the results back until early in 2016.”
Those results will be available for decision-makers for the 2016–2017 hunting season.
Photos taken by Richard Simms
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