Evidence escapes

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1994:

HARTVILLE, Ohio––The Sharon
Woods deer saga took another twist on March
25 when 74 of the 76 whitetailed deer in cus-
tody of elk breeder Robin Rodabaugh disap-
peared after someone cut the fence. The deer
were the last of 286 whom Rodabaugh and 10
volunteers removed from heavily overpopulated
Sharon Woods Metro Park, on the outskirts of
Columbus, during December and January.
Rodabaugh said three witnesses provided infor-
mation linking the fence-cutting to an alleged
“known poacher,” who apparently wanted the
deer to get out where he could shoot them.

The 760-acre park became a textbook
example of deer overpopulation when the rem-
nants of a heavily hunted herd sought refuge
there several years ago, then were isolated by
development. Hunting pressure on bucks had
skewed the sex ratio to approximately 10
females per male, a prescription for fast herd
growth––and that’s just what happened, as
about 200 deer became as many as 400 when
the herd peaked. By then they had stripped the
understory from the woods, eliminating cover
for most other species, and were surviving
chiefly on handouts: half the trash removed
from the park, Rodabaugh said, consisted of
bread wrappers.
The quest for a solution proved almost
as troubling as the deer overpopulation itself.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife favored hunting,
the park district favored sharpshooters, and the
deer-feeders favored birth control. Rodabaugh’s
plan to relocate the deer was accepted as a com-
promise. Tension between Rodabaugh and the
division emerged almost immediately, when
Rodabaugh objected unsuccessfully to the size of
the barbs on the .50 caliber tranquilizer darts he
was ordered to use to drop the deer for removal.
The park district argued that the large barbs were
necessary to insure that none of the drug-filled
darts fell out of the wounds and were left behind
to be found by the public. Although the darts
made dime-sized holes where they hit,
Rodabaugh said, each deer took 15 to 30 min-
utes to fall. Fifty-seven deer died on the spot.
Thirty-six more died at Rodabaugh’s breeding
compound, where he had hoped to backbreed
them in an attempt to restore the traits of the deer
found by the first European settlers, much as he
claims to have backbred his elk herd.
That was not to be: some of the deer
suffered from such severe calcium deficiencies
that their legs broke under even minor stress,
while many others required antibiotics to clear
up an outbreak of rhinotracheitis.
Rodabaugh still had 69 deer in his barn
when first a heavy snowfall damaged the roof,
and then a sudden thaw brought blocked drains,
causing the barn to fill with water and urine.
Sixteen days passed, he charged, before the
Division of Wildlife allowed him to relocate the
survivors. Once the move was approved,
Rodabaugh said, he removed the grain troughs
and water system from the barn because rumi-
nants should not be relocated while digesting
grain, and because he didn’t want any deer to
injure their legs against the knee-high water
troughs as he tried to get them into trucks.
Then, he charged, the division sent an inspec-
tor, and issued a press release saying he had
allowed the deer to starve amid filth.
Legal action is possible, as the
Division of Wildlife is reportedly investigating
charges against Rodabaugh, while Rodabaugh
has threatened, in turn, to sue the division.
––Donna Robb
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