July 30, 2008

Discovery Channel features wildlife researcher

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale wildlife researcher will appear on the Discovery Channel this weekend as part of a show featuring animal attacks.

Clay K. Nielsen, assistant scientist at the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at SIUC, this spring sat for interviews with a crew from “When Animals Strike.” The hour-long television show featuring Nielsen’s interview is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Central, Sunday, Aug. 3.

The show features a series of segments highlighting unpleasant encounters between humans and animals, and the science behind such incidents.

Nielsen addressed the series of human-deer encounters that occurred on campus during the summers of 2005 and 2006. During those times, several people reported deer acting aggressively, kicking or flailing at them, as they traversed several areas on campus.

Nielsen, a nationally known expert on deer behavior, theorized at the time that mother deer defending their newborn fawns caused the incidents. Fawning season runs roughly from May through the end of June.

Nielsen said the show’s producers wanted to know more about the incidents and why they might have occurred.

“They had all kinds of questions about those incidents, deer biology and behavior and what might have caused the deer to behave in this way,” Nielsen said. “I talked about how deer were on our campus, how they had become habituated to humans on campus and how people used the many beautiful natural areas on our campus.”

Leslie Mattingly, associate producer of the episode featuring SIUC, said her research found deer attacks are very rare and SIUC’s experience was fairly unique.

“With some more research, we found Clay, who is also there at the University, so everything seemed to be in one spot,” Mattingly said. “Clay was very informative and helped us understand deer behavior and why those incidents may have occurred.”

In summer 2006, during another human-deer encounter on a walking trail around campus lake, an SIUC public safety officer shot and killed a deer during one of the incidents. Since that time, the University has received no further reports of aggressive deer on campus.

Nielsen said he suspects that incident, coupled with a strong public education effort undertaken by the University, may explain why there have been no further reported incidents.

“We’ve had no problems the last two summers now,” but we need to remain cautious, Nielsen said.

Nielsen said the show interviewed him for an hour near Thompson Woods, near the center of campus.

Mattingly said the show featuring SIUC also includes segments focusing on alligators, bears, coyotes, mountain lions and bees.