Context. Many mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) populations in New Mexico have failed to recover from previous population declines, while some populations near urban areas have increased, resulting in more frequent human–wildlife conflicts. Translocations were used in an effort to simultaneously reduce an urban mule deer population and augment two low-density populations in south-western New Mexico, USA.
Aims. Because of insufficient monitoring, the efficacy of many ungulate translocations is unknown. Our goal was to monitor cause-specific mortality and 1 year post-release survival of mule deer translocated during 2013 and 2014. We compared survival rates of mule deer released with a hard- versus soft-release during the 2014 translocation.
Methods. We translocated 218 mule deer in 2013 and 2014 into the Peloncillo Mountains (PM) and San Francisco River Valley (SFRV); 106 adult female mule deer were fitted with telemetry collars to determine cause-specific mortality and estimate survival 1 year post-release. All deer were hard-released in 2013. In 2014, translocated mule deer were either held in a soft-release pen (0.81 ha) for approximately 3 weeks or hard-released into their new environment. We used a Kaplan–Meier approach to estimate survival of translocated mule deer at each release area and to compare survival of mule deer translocated using each release method (i.e. hard- versus soft-release).
Key results. In 2013–14, survival of hard-released deer in the PM was 0.627 (s.e. = 0.09), compared with 0.327 (s.e. = 0.10) in the SFRV. In 2014–15, survival of hard–released deer in the PM was 0.727 (s.e. = 0.13) and survival of soft-released deer was 0.786 (s.e. = 0.11). In the SFRV, survival of hard- and soft-released deer was 0.656 (s.e. = 0.14) and 0.50 (s.e. = 0.16), respectively. Causes of mortality were predation (51%), potential disease (9%; blue tongue or epizootic haemorrhagic disease), accident (5%), poaching (5%) and unknown (20%).
Conclusions. Translocations can be an effective management tool to augment populations of mule deer while reducing overabundant urban populations. Soft-released mule deer did not have higher survival than hard-released mule deer, although the length and conditions of the acclimation period were limited in our study.
Implications. Overabundant mule deer populations in urban areas may serve as sources of animals to bolster declining populations. Soft-release pens of smaller size and short period of acclimation did not influence survival.