Mammoth Cave conducts aerial infrared study of white-tailed deer population

The study is in hopes of finding out more information on the well-being of both the deer and park visitors.
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 5:37 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Researchers at Mammoth Cave completed a study of white-tailed deer populations this weekend, using a fixed-wing aircraft equipped with multi-sensor infrared cameras.

“They fly over a grid pattern, so they covered the entire park area,” said Molly Schroer, management analyst for Mammoth Cave. “They planned for one night, it took them a few additional nights though just because of the weather. It was knocking them off course a little bit, the fog came in and low clouds and they weren’t able to see as well.”

Park officials hope that by tracking the population of deer within the park, they can gain valuable information that benefits the well-being of both the deer and park visitors.

“We know there’s a lot of deer in the park, or we feel like there’s a lot of deer in the park we see them along the roadways and near the visitor center. They’re one of our most popular animals to see for the public,” said Schroer. “So, it’s important for us to see how many deer we have in the park so we can understand how they’re impacting the park.”

Overpopulation of deer within the park can lead to damaged vegetation, increased traffic accidents, and the spread of diseases within herds of deer, as well as tick-borne diseases that could be transmitted to humans.

Schroer said, “Right now we’re kind of looking at this number as almost a baseline to see where are we at as far as our deer population. And then that’s going to give us some more data later on down the road.”

While researchers currently use roadside counts to track animal populations, they currently do not have a system for gaining an accurate count of deer populations deeper within the park’s 53,000-acre forest.

“We’re kind of curious of how other things might affect the deer population like extreme weather events, or diseases that we register in the deer population. So, it’s going to give us a count of where we are now so the next time we do the count we’ll have an idea of where they’re going,” said Schroer.

Schroer says that while the park is most known for its expansive cave systems, the health of the forest aboveground can drastically affect the health of species below ground. Gaining an understanding of all aspects of the park ensures that the full ecosystem remains intact.

Park staff is currently experimenting with the best means of tracking animal populations within the park’s boundaries. For now, park officials are still waiting on the results of the aerial population study.

“We’ll continue our roadside deer counts, and we’re actually experimenting with some other types of deer counts. We’re doing them in conjunction with this aerial one to see how accurate these on-the-ground counts are,” said Schroer.