As November comes to a close, so too does the deer culling in Richmond Park in southwest London. The park was established by Charles I in the 17th Century as a royal hunting ground.

Today, the park is a nature reserve. Because game hunting is no longer practiced, deer are killed by rangers biennially in the park in order to quell the growth of the population.

But why does this seemingly violent, cruel and potentially unnecessary act take place? Culling occurs when those in control of animals decide that overpopulation poses a threat to the rest of the population. These threats involve starvation and diseases, such as Lyme disease and chronic wasting disease. If the deer population is less concentrated the disease is much harder to spread, which may help the deer in the long run.

While there are obviously clear benefits to culling, there is fierce debate on whether or not deer culling is ethically cruel. Many argue that culling deer and then selling their meat to those who can afford it (i.e. the wealthy) is simply a cash grab by the Royal Parks, but the main dilemma is whether or not the practice as a whole is unnecessary. Animal rights activist Leslie Dove promotes GonaCon, an immuno-contraceptive that diminishes population growth adequately. Last year, a petition to stop deer culling garnered 1500 signatories but the Royal Parks maintained that culling is necessary to prevent starvation among present populations, stating: “The British Deer Society and the Deer Initiative of England and Wales fully endorse humane culling as best practice in deer herd management and the Royal Parks is an expert manager of enclosed wild deer herds. The deer in the Royal Parks are under veterinary supervision and all aspects of their welfare are monitored regularly.”

The deer culling this season is almost complete, and the Richmond Park deer population will return to approximately 600.

by Ben Green, Hampton School