Knowledge and perception of the withe-tailed deer in rural communities in northeastern Mexico: Implications for its management and conservation

E. J. Ruiz-Mondragón1*; G. Romero-Figueroa2; I. E. Márquez-Gallegos1

1. Natura EST. Juan Escutia 43, Cuauhtémoc, CP 06140, Ciudad de México, México., Natura EST,

<state>Ciudad de México</state>
, México , 2. Laboratorio de Manejo y Conservación de Vida Silvestre, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. Carretera Ensenada-Tijuana 3917, CP 22860, Ensenada, Baja California, México., Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Laboratorio de Manejo y Conservación de Vida Silvestre, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California,
<city>Ensenada</city>
<state>Baja California</state>
, Mexico

Correspondence: *Corresponding Author: Enrique de Jesús Ruiz Mondragón, Natura EST. Juan Escutia 43, Cuauhtémoc, Ciudad de México, México. C.P. 06140. Phone: +52 612 120 6759. E-mail: E-mail: ; https://naturaest.com


Abstract:

The success of environmental conservation initiatives increases when traditional knowledge and local perceptions of nature are taken into consideration. The objective of the present research was to obtain information from the knowledge and perception that the inhabitants of some rural communities in northeastern Mexico have about the white-tailed deer, with the purpose to contribute to plan programs for conserving this species. Seventy-three men aged from 17 to 68, who belong to seven rural communities in northern Tamaulipas, were interviewed from January to March 2019. In general, the interviewees feel a profound respect and admiration for the white-tailed deer, since this animal is part of the support of their families and represents a source of experiences that they shared with their relatives and friends. In the region, the use of the species is divided into four categories: food, recreation, commercial activities and tourism. Nevertheless, the general perception of the status of the white-tailed deer population is that it is declining due to overhunting. On the other hand, the knowledge that the inhabitants of the region have about the deer can be sorted into three categories: food, life cycle and behavior of the species. In conclusion, the white-tailed deer is considered as a key resource for the natural communities of northern Tamaulipas, where the inhabitants recognize that they obtain environmental, economic and social benefits. For this reason, it is necessary that the inhabitants be organized and take advantage of their admiration and knowledge for the deer to design a strategy for communal exploitation of the species from which the majority will be benefited.

Received: 2020 February 22; Accepted: 2020 July 9

revbio. 2021 Mar 4; 7: e950
doi: 10.15741/revbio.07.e950

Keywords: Key words: Ethnozoology, local knowledge, Odocoileus virginianus, social thought, white-tailed deer.

Introduction

The white-tailed deer is the most economically important Mexican wildlife species (Galindo & Weber, 2005; Gallina & Mandujano, 2009), sought by some people as a hunting trophy and by others as a food source, hides and other derivatives for the support of their families (Mandujano & Rico, 1991; Villarreal, 2002). Culturally, the white-tailed deer has a high value among farming communities of Mexico since it is part of their identity, being linked to stories, myths, legends and ritual celebrations in its honor (Renata & Lorenzo, 2016).

Preservation of this important species requires designing management plans that are integral, adaptive, elaborated based on scientific information and that respond to the necessities and interests of the resource’s holders (Walters, 1986; Mandujano, 1994). In this context, the fact that the success of conservation initiatives increases when taking into account traditional knowledge and local perceptions about nature is recognized, (Fischer & Young, 2007; Evely et al., 2011), because in this way not only quality information is obtained, but also a common and reliable basis is established for the creation of agreements when giving a greater protagonism to the social actors in the process of knowledge generation and decision making (Cox, 1996; Reed, 2008).

The northeastern region of Mexico, composed of the states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, is considered as a priority for the management of the white-tailed deer since the country’s major population densities of the species are located in this region (Mandujano et al., 2016); and the subspecies of white-tailed deer of most hunting importance nationally O. v. texanus is distributed there (Villarreal, 2002). The objective of this work was to obtain data from the level of knowledge and perception that the inhabitants of some rural communities in northeastern Mexico have about white-tail deer, with the purpose to contribute to establish future initiatives for conserving the most economically and culturally important wildlife species in the country, the white-tailed deer.

Methods

Area of study

The study was performed in seven rural communities belonging to the municipalities of Méndez and Reynosa, in the state of Tamaulipas: Congregación Garza, División del Norte, Doroteo Arango, Emilio Portes Gil, La Blanquita, Manuel Cavazos Lerma and Santo Domingo (Figure 1).


[Figure ID: f1] Figure 1.

Location of the rural communities where the study was carried out. 1) Manuel Cavazos Lerma; 2) División del Norte; 3) La Blanquita; 4) Congregación Garza; 5) Santo Domingo; 6) Doroteo Arango; 7) Emilio Portes Gil.


The towns were located in the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico, in the middle of a farming zone surrounded by induced grasslands and remnants of prickly thickets of Tamaulipas (INEGI, 2013), where the type of climate was semi-arid with rainfalls distributed throughout the year [BS1 (h’) (x’)] (García & CONABIO, 1998).

Population density per town was: La Blanquita 30 inhabitants; Santo Domingo 32 inhabitants, Manuel Cavazos Lerma 67 inhabitants; Emilio Portes Gil 110 inhabitants; Congregación Garza 115 inhabitants; División del Norte 166 inhabitants; Doroteo Arango 408 inhabitants (SEDESOL, 2015). The main productive activity of these communities was the cultivation of sorghum, though to a lesser extent, extensive cattle raising as well (INEGI, 2015). These settlements were considered as highly excluded and/or discriminated, with the exception of Doroteo Arango which had a medium exclusion degree (SEDESOL, 2015).

Knowledge and perception of the white-tailed deer

The information relative to the knowledge and perception of the white-tailed deer among the inhabitants of seven rural communities in northeastern Mexico was obtained by means of the application of semi-structured surveys (Martin, 2001: Díaz et al., 2013), which were realized based on a series of questions aimed to get the following information from the interviewees: their general data; the knowledge they possessed about the biology of the white-tailed deer; the economic, environmental and social value the species represented to them; and the perception of the state of conservation that these animals were subject to in their communities.

The study was carried out from January to March 2019, starting with the identification of local people with experience in the exploitation of the white-tailed deer and with willingness to help in the research, who were considered as key informers. These informers helped to contact people from the communities for applying the surveys. Seventy-three semi-structured surveys were realized, being this the maximum number of contacts that could be created, to men between 17 and 68 years old, who had been living in their respective communities for more than 10 years and that were frequently found in contact with the white-tailed deer, either because they went hunting or because, in some season of the year, they complemented their primary productive activities with others that required going deep into the deer’s habitat, such as gathering of chile de monte (Capsicum annuum) and chocha flowers (Yucca filifera) or the production of carbon.

Results

Of the total number of the interviewees, 27 % were people younger than 30 years old and the remaining 73 % were adults between the ages of 30 and 68 years old, most of them worked as day laborers in sorghum crops (71 %), others made their living practicing cattle raising (22 %) and a few of them worked as mechanics, construction workers and merchants (7 %). In relation to the interviewees’ residence, 79 % were from their respective communities and the other 21 % were migrants that arrived to their current locations mainly from the southern region of Mexico.

Generally, the inhabitants that came from the seven towns in the north of Tamaulipas had been in contact with the white-tailed deer since they can remember, while the migrants first saw a specimen of the species until they arrived to their current communities. Nevertheless, all the interviewees felt excitement every time they saw a deer. They also mentioned other feelings such as joy, adrenaline, pleasure and impression at the sight of this animal.

Contrary to what occurred in rural communities in the southern states of the Mexican Republic, where the deer was related to mythic aspects (Mandujano & Rico, 1991; Olivier, 1999; Flores et al., 2013; et al., 2015; Retana & Lorenzo, 2016et al.,López et al., 2018), the interviewees had no knowledge of myths or regional rituals related to the white-tailed deer, the stories they knew about the species were mostly hunting anecdotes, for instance, the time Mr. Oswaldo shot a deer at more than a 300-meter distance, the time Juan missed the shot from less than a 10-meter distance, or when Mr. Ovidio got closed to the deer he had just wounded to pick it up , but feeling him close, the deer stood up and attacked its aggressor with its antlers, who managed to save his life by running directly to a mesquite and climbing it, staying up into the tree until the furious animal got away. People accumulated stories for bringing them memories of experiences they shared with their relatives and friends, the reason why the white-tailed deer in the rural communities of the north of Tamaulipas, like in other towns in the country, is a key element for social cohesion since it promotes coexistence among people and the integration of young people into the community (Ek, 2011; Rodríguez et al., 2012; Herrera, 2016).

On the other hand, when the inhabitants were asked about the ecological value of the white-tailed deer, they recognized that the species was important for the habitat, however, most of them did not fully comprehend the role this species plays in the ecosystem, giving some of them responses like: “the animal is important because it eats plants from the hill;” “deer help the hill to grow;” “it is important because it is eaten by coyotes and wildcats.” Ignoring other functions of great importance that deer have in the habitat such as influencing the establishment, growth, reproduction, composition and structure of the vegetable communities of the region (Augustine & Frelich, 1998; Galindo & Weber, 1998; Mandujano et al., 2004) and more subtle functions such as being a source of calcium for regional rodents that obtain this important mineral from the deer’s shedding antlers (Galindo & Weber, 1998).

The white-tailed deer in the region is exploited into four categories of use: food, for the consumption of its meat; commercial, for selling its products and sub-products derived from the species; touristic, which involves selling a legal hunting service and therefore is realized by an Environmental Management Unit (UMA in Spanish); and recreational, referring to hunting as a sport practiced by the inhabitants of the rural communities.

The main use given to the deer in rural communities in northern Tamaulipas, just like in other farming localities of Mexico, was as a food source (Mandujano & Rico, 1991; Flores et al., 2013; Retana et al. 2015; López et al., 2018), since all the interviewees assured that the main reason why they hunt this animal is to consume its meat, which they roast, stew, put into tamales or use to cook dishes commonly made with beef and other interviewees even mentioned that they make chorizo from deer meat.

Another use of the species which is shared among the communities of Tamaulipas and of other states of the country, is the commercial use, by selling the meat (Flores et al., 2013; Retana et al., 2015; López et al., 2018), whose price in the study area oscillated between $150 and $200 (MXN, Mexican pesos) per kilogram. The antlers are another by-product of the deer that the inhabitants of the communities visited exploited for commercial purposes, which after being cleaned and mounted onto wood could be sold up to $1500 (MXN), though it was not a very common practice since only three people were known to do this type of job. Regarding the hides, the interviewees denied making use of them for commercial purposes nor did they know someone who sold this by-product of the animal, contrary to what occurred in other communities of Mexico where deer hide is an important product with which to make business (Ávila et al., 2011; Román & Retana, 2012; Retana et al., 2015; Ávila et al., 2018).

The touristic exploitation of the white-tailed deer in the region, according to the interviewees, was realized only by private cynegetic ranches, which were visited by national and international hunters who pay around $1500 (USD, US dollars) to hunt a deer, since a communal touristic exploitation of the white-tailed deer was practiced in none of their communities, contrary to what occurred in other localities of Mexico where the community has been organized to realize a touristic exploitation of the species through UMA’s socially-owned lands (Hernández et al., 2011; Villareal et al., 2011; Beltrán & Díaz, 2017; Reyes, 2017).

A recreational use of the white-tailed deer was registered in the study area, since for its inhabitants, hunting was not only a practice of subsistence, but also a sport they were passionate about, an activity that was perceived and realized with mystical purposes in other communities, especially in the indigenous ones (Mandujano & Rico, 1991; Retana et al., 2015). Among the documented uses practiced on the deer in the rural localities of Mexico and those that were not registered in the communities of northern Tamaulipas there were: fur trading, medicinal, as pet and for the fabrication of tools (Retana et al., 2015).

The general perception in the region with respect to the state of the white-tailed deer population was that it is in decline, contrary to what Martínez & Hewitt (2001) reported, who, after performing an analysis of nutritional deficiencies in the species, determined that the overpopulation of the white-tailed deer was a common problem in some areas of northeastern Mexico. Nonetheless, since many years passed since the research referred was carried out and the lack of recent studies concerning this topic, the urgent necessity of realizing new monitoring of the deer in the study area arises, in order to establish whether its populations tend to decline, as perceived by the inhabitants of the rural communities.

The inhabitants of northern Tamaulipas attributed the decrease of the white-tailed deer population to the fact that in each community there were a lot of people practicing hunting and that there was no control of this activity, which caused, in addition to the overexploitation of this resource, not only the extraction of adult males but also of females and offspring, and this perception was shared with other areas of Mexico where the species was distributed and where there was a lack of communal monitoring programs for natural resources (Flores et al., 2013; Burgos, 2020). This is why the interviewees considered that in order to preserve the species in their communities, vigilance and control of this activity was necessary. These actions, accompanied by others such as continuous monitoring of its populations, realizing activities for the improvement of the habitat and the habilitation of spaces for eco-touristic use have allowed the recovery of white-tailed deer populations in diverse rural communities of Mexico (Villareal et al., 2011; Flores et al., 2013; Gallina et al., 2014; Reyes, 2017). Other measures that according to the participants will contribute to the preservation of the deer in their communities were fencing with deer mesh of the areas of common use, growing more specimens and educating the population.

Regarding the knowledge the inhabitants possessed about the deer, it can be grouped into three categories: feeding of the species, its life cycle and behavior. Regarding feeding, the interviewees recognized twelve wild plants on which the deer feed (Table 1) and mentioned that in occasions they saw these animals eating at the sorghum, bean and corn crops. Nevertheless, it has been documented that in the region the deer’s diet consisted of 44 vegetable species, of which Acacia amentacea was the most important since it can constitute up to 90 % of its diet (Quintanilla, 1989).

Table 1.

Wild species of flora consumed by the deer according to the inhabitants of the rural communities of northern Tamaulipas.


Scientific name Common name
Cordia boissieri White Geiger tree
Leucophyllum frutescens Texas sage
Acacia amentacea Black brush acacia
Turnera diffusa Damiana
Prosopis laevigata Mesquite
Opuntia engelmannii Nopal
Yucca filifera Giant yucca
Parkinsonia aculeata Jerusalem thorn
Croton incanus Torrey´s croton
Cylindropuntia leptocaulis Desert Christmas cactus
Eysenhardtia texana Texas kidneywood
Cenchrus ciliaris Buffel grass

In relation to the life cycle of these organisms, 26 % of the participants in this study believed that the life expectancy of a deer was less than ten years, 17 % that it was between ten and fifteen years, 13 % that it was between fifteen and twenty years, 1 % that it was more than twenty years and 43 % assured not knowing for how long these animals can live. Deer’s average life expectancy is fifteen years if living freely but they can live up to twenty years (Álvarez & Medellín, 2005). Also, the interviewees correctly identified that the reproductive season of the species was from November to January and that females gave birth to one or two offsprings from June to August (Galindo & Weber, 1998; Álvarez & Medellín, 2005; Galindo & Weber, 2005; Hewitt, 2011), nevertheless, a pair or inhabitants assured seeing fawns in May.

Regarding the sexual maturity of the species: for the females 39% said that they could reproduce at one year old, 21 % at two years old, 17 % from three to five years old and 23 % said that they had no knowledge on the matter; in the case of males 25 % said that they reached maturity at one year old, 39 % at two years old, 13 % from three to five years old and just like in the case of females 23 % said that they had no knowledge on the matter. Therefore, it was considered that most of the interviewees were unacquainted with the topic or possessed erroneous information, since both males and females of white-tailed deer start mating from two years old (Álvarez & Medellín, 2005; Hewitt, 2011). Another aspect of the life cycle of the white-tailed deer with which the interviewees were rightly acquainted, was the season in which males shed their antlers, a phenomenon that occurs from March to May (Galindo & Weber, 1998; Álvarez & Medellín, 2005; Galindo & Weber, 2005; Hewitt, 2011).

About behavior, they correctly identified the periods of greater activity of the deer were in the first hours in the morning and before nightfall, though on cold days they remain in constant movement, and they considered that the best climate for observing these animals was when it was cold and raining. As well, they knew that deers group into herds whose structure changes depending on the season of the year since, when it is not during the mating season, they assured that deers were seen in groups integrated only by males as well as groups integrated only by females, which does not occur during rutting time, when they saw males alone, couples of males and females, herds integrated by one male and two or three females, or by a male with a female and a fawn. Nevertheless, there is a group that they saw throughout the entire year and it is the one integrated by females and fawns (Galindo & Weber, 1998; Álvarez & Medellín, 2005; Galindo & Weber, 2005; Hewitt, 2011). According to the interviewees, generally, more than six deers together were not seen in the region, however, one person assured to have seen once a herd of nine deers among which there were males, females and fawns.

Conclusions

The white-tailed deer is a key resource for the rural communities of northern Tamaulipas, about which the inhabitants recognized obtaining environmental, economic and social benefits. But despite the importance of this species, there is a lack of measures aiming to guarantee its sustainable exploitation, putting in risk its permanence in their localities. In view of this scenario, there is the urgent need for the inhabitants of these communities to organize and, by taking advantage of their fascination for the deer and the knowledge they possess about it, to design a strategy of communal exploitation of the species that will result beneficial for most of them and in which the measures to be pondered will monitoring its populations, watch subsistence hunting, realizing activities for the improvement of the habitat, offsetting up spaces for eco-touristic use where the main appeal are deer sightings and environmental education aimed to highlight the importance that deer have had and still have in culture, society and environments. These actions will contribute to the conservation of the species in the rural communities of northern Tamaulipas.


fn1Cite this paper/Como citar este artículo: Ruiz-Mondragón, E. J., Romero-Figueroa, G., Márquez-Gallegos, I. E. (2020). Knowledge and perception of the withe-tailed deer in rural communities in northeastern Mexico: Implications for its management and conservation. Revista Bio Ciencias 7, e950. doi: https://doi.org/10.15741/revbio.07.e950

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