May 24, 2006

University strives for safety of humans, deer

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Administrators, scientists and safety officers are working to prevent encounters between aggressive deer and humans on the wooded campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The University has ordered 50 signs that will warn pedestrians about areas that carry a high potential for deer-human contact. Workers are placing some signs today and will continue doing so throughout the week.

Officers at SIUC's Department of Public Safety, in cooperation with workers at the University's Plant and Service Operations, will place the signs at the select locations on campus. Workers are placing signs based on reports of previous deer-human encounters and recommendations from SIUC's Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, which also is heading up a public awareness and research campaign.

"It is a priority and it is a safety issue," said Todd D. Sigler, director of public safety at SIUC. "We're trying to prevent anything additional from happening. I want it to be the end of it."

Three pedestrians were injured Tuesday when they encountered a female deer on a popular and scenic footpath that runs along Campus Lake, south of the intersection of Oakland Avenue and Douglas Drive and east of the Lesar Law Building. Public safety officers have closed and barricaded the area and are advising pedestrians to stay away until further notice.

During last year's fawning season, which runs roughly from mid-May through the end of June, the University recorded nine such incidents, the majority of which involved female deer acting aggressively toward students and campus employees.

Sigler is asking the campus community and visitors to play it safe.

"We've got a lot of people getting out and getting physical exercise and the campus is very popular for that. It's a very pretty campus. Unfortunately they're going to the areas where deer have inhabited. We need to get the word out that people need to be vigilant."

SIUC Provost and Vice Chancellor John M. Dunn said wildlife encounters go along with the University's unique campus, which includes many wooded acres populated by deer and other animals.

"Our students study in one of the most naturally beautiful university campuses in the United States. Sometimes when humans and animals are in close proximity incidents such as these occur," Dunn said. "We are working hard on addressing the issue to ensure that our students and employees are safe."

The University last week kicked off a multifaceted public education and research effort aimed at keeping the humans and deer on campus safe. Scientists at SIUC's Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory are estimating how many deer live on campus and surveying the community about the attitude toward deer.

"We hope that we can have a comprehensive idea of the status of deer on campus," said Eric C. Hellgren, director of the lab.

Hellgren notes that doe attacks are uncommon. "This is unprecedented. Normally, does would not attack humans in the wild, but it's happening here because they're used to having people around."

Clay Nielsen, an assistant scientist at the SIUC Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, is giving a previously scheduled presentation titled, "The Nature of Deer-Human Conflicts: Avoiding Deer-Human Encounters of the Third Kind on Campus," at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 25, in Room 1059, Life Science III on the SIUC campus. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Promoting campus safety is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.