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Researchers Seek Information on Close Encounters of the Deer Kind

nine-point buck standing in Meadowbrook Park, Urbana, Ill.

Researchers at the University of Illinois are asking adults in Illinois to complete an online survey about their experiences with wild white-tailed deer. The survey is part of a larger effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to study wild deer in relation to the prevalence and transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 in people.

“We know that people can share diseases with wildlife, like wild deer, but we don’t always know how those diseases move back and forth,” said Dr. Rebecca Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

“What we’re interested in learning is how many and which people interact with deer, in what way, where, and how often,” she said. “We are asking for adults age 18 and above to participate in an online survey so we can learn about the experiences—if any—that the general public has had with wild white-tailed deer in Illinois.”

The online survey may help researchers glean useful information about public health and disease transmission beyond the implications for the COVID-19 virus.

“The main purpose of this research is to understand how SARS-CoV-2 could possibly have spilled into the wild deer population, but what we find could help us understand much more about human-wildlife interactions and how they might influence disease spread,” said Dr. Smith.


In late 2021, the USDA began testing wild white-tailed deer in four states for active infection with or signs of past infection with the virus that causes COVID in humans. They found a significant level of detectable antibodies to the virus.

Given the extensive populations of deer and other wild hooved mammals across the country, the agency has continued to study these animals to better understand possible virus transmission routes and the potential risk they may pose to people, domestic animals, and other wildlife. Read more about these studies.

  • The USDA says evidence to date indicates that the risk of animals spreading the COVID virus to people is low.
  • According to the USDA, an estimated 6 million white-tailed deer are harvested by hunters in the United States every year.
  • Nearly 150,000 deer were harvested in Illinois in the 2021-22 deer hunting season, which lasted 108 days.

Featured photo, by Jeff Bryant, taken at Meadowbrook Park, Urbana, Ill., on Nov. 24, 2018, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.