DeNicola, A. J., Miller, D. S., DeNicola, V. L. et al. 2019. Assessment of humaneness using gunshot targeting the brain and cervical spine for cervid depopulation under field conditions. PLoS ONE 14(2), e0213200.
Population reduction or eradication of domestic or non-domestic species may be required to address their impacts on the environment, other species, or human interests. Firearms are often used to accomplish these practical management objectives, and there is increased concern that the methods used may compromise animal welfare. We document the accuracy and humaneness of gunshot placement to the brain and cervical vertebrae of Philippine deer (Rusa marianna) on Guam during depopulation activities as a model for meeting AVMA standards of euthanasia under field conditions (e.g., animal is not in hand). Deer were shot with a .223 caliber rifle from 10–125 m and approached immediately (<20 s) for assessment. A subset of adult deer was further evaluated for physiological responses including cessation of heart rate, respiration, ocular reflexes, and post-mortem spasms. All deer shot in the brain (n = 132) and upper cervical spine (C1—C3; n = 18) died immediately due to the destruction of the brain or spinal tissue. Shot placements were all within 1.9 cm of the point of aim (i.e., the center of the target region). The accuracy and immediate insensibility resulting from targeting of C1—C3 demonstrates that this is an alternative target site when animal positioning is not optimal for targeting the brain, or there is a need to preserve brain tissue (e.g., Chronic Wasting Disease testing). While targeting of C4 –C7 vertebrae (n = 6) was accurate and resulted in immediate incapacitation, the failure to produce immediate insensibility does not support the use of this shot placement when upper cervical or brain shot placement is an option. It is reasonable to achieve sufficient accuracy to target the brain or upper cervical vertebrae of deer under field conditions and meet standards of euthanasia while accomplishing management objectives.