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Wildlife loss through domestication: The case of endangered key deer

Publication Abstract

Peterson, M.N., R.R. Lopez, E.J. Laurent, P.A. Frank, N.J. Silvy, and Jianguo Liu. 2005. "Wildlife loss through domestication: The case of endangered key deer." Conservation Biology, 19(3): 939-944.

Wildlife extinction represents the ultimate failure of wildlife conservation. It has many causes, some of them natural, but is increasingly tied to anthropogenic factors. Wildlife loss via domestication, however, is sorely considered. We evaluated the potential for inadvertent domestication of wildlife by determining the effect of feeding and watering on Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) density, group size, and distribution. Key deer sightings were significantly higher in areas (42 ha) surrounding the households that provided food and water (0.18 deer/m; n= 8) than in randomly selected areas (0.03 deer/m; t = 3.82, 14 df, p = 0.002). Average distance to a household providing food and water decreased logistically as group size increased, and large groups (>2 individuals each) were observed more frequently in areas where food and water were provided (27.5%) than in the randomly selected areas (7.5%). The incidence of large groups outside feeding areas (7.5%), however; was similar to the incidence of large groups during early urbanization (5.1%; 1968-1973). Our results suggest illegal feeding caused changes in density, group size, and distribution indicative of domestication. Because fresh water and food were primary selective pressures for Key deer before illegal feeding and watering genetic changes may occur in the future. For those who value "wildness" in wildlife, domestication of wildlife species is a serious problem that must be addressed.

DOI:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2005.00069.x (Full Text)

Country of focus: United States.

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