Shawnee Mission, Kansas – The deer bow hunt at Shawnee Mission Park continues, but animal rights activists say they're pulling back from any future protests. Sharpshooters harvested more than 300 deer in the first phase of the cull, and expect the bow hunt to reduce the herd by another 75 or 80. They expect the deer harvest to save the overpopulated herd from starving, and from further damaging the park's ecosystem. Animal rights activists say they may have lost this battle, but they're not giving up the war to protect the deer.
An arctic wind blew through the blue grass at Shawnee Mission Park recently as a dozen animal rights activists waited in cars to begin what they were calling "a funeral motorcade" for the dead deer. Tied to the lead SUV-a fake buck, standing on all fours, with two arrows in its rump.
The motorcade snaked around the park, along 87th street to Oak Park Mall. It was the latest, and probably the last, action by a substantial animal rights movement that congealed around the deer issue. Organizers say they're proud of the high profile they brought to their cause; regular media attention, and a lively communication via the internet. They flew in international animal rights activist, Anthony Marr, who's worked with Bengal Tigers, and whales in Japan. Marr also focuses on the cities with deer problems, of which he says there are many:"I would say easily 50. I say one per state, but more than that. In Ohio, for example, there are 5 or 6 cities with slaughters going on, campaigns going on." Marr has devised a non-lethal, contraceptive means of deer management. It hasn't been tested in the United States but he says it has been successful in India.
But park officials say the impact of the dramatic overpopulation in Shawnee Mission Park doesn't leave enough time for contraceptive management methods. Walking near some of the trees damaged by the deer late this summer, Park spokesman Randy Knight explained the problem of protecting the ecosystem was urgent:"If you look right along here, any forested tree line, you see a very dramatic browse line. So songbirds have no nesting habitat, because what used to be shaded is shaded no longer, and the wildflowers that would be flowering, you won't see them because the deer grazed right through them." Knight says officials will continue to explore non-lethal means as a method of managing the deer in the future.
Jason Miller, founder of Bite Club of KC, the animal rights group that spearheaded the Shawnee Mission protests, says it's not the environment, but hunters, who're driving the deer management plan. Activists expressed increasing frustration over what they perceived to be park officials stonewalling of their concerns. Emails to park officials became increasingly vitriolic. Activists consistently interrupted park board meetings:"Bow hunters are actually more accurate....Killers!! Killers!!" At one point, Miller delivered a severed deer head, dripping in blood, to administration headquarters.
I met Miller last weekend at a coffee shop to ask him how he feels now that 313 deer have been shot,and the bow hunt is under way. He said the campaign was a bittersweet experience."We lost in that we didn't stop the killing. But we put animal rights in Kansas City on the map. We're all over the internet. If you type in Shawnee Mission Park Deer, it's everywhere. I cried when the deer were killed, but I think all of us can hold our heads high. We accomplished a lot."
The bow hunt at Shawnee Mission Park continues through January, when officials will release final numbers for the deer cull. Bite Club of KC has joined with other animal rights activists in a coalition that will focus on non-lethal means for managing urban deer.