PSU Deer Study

“I have a rendezvous with Death 
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.”


This is the opening verse of Alan Seeger’s most famous poem I Have a Rendezvous with Death.  It was one of JKF’s favorite poems.  Indeed, poems can make that inevitable meeting seem romantic.  And given we all partake in this event sooner or later, why not?  The reality of it is definitely less than romantic.  

We have shared with you many a rendezvous.  Some mysterious.  Some routine.  Some expected.  Some surprising.  Some are relatable.  And yes, even sad.  That is the story of Doe 12810.

Doe 12810 was originally captured on March 17, 2016 as not quite 1 year old.  She was too small for be fitted with a GPS collar that year.  But as luck would have it, she was captured again on March 2, 2017.  

Given her age, she was a candidate for a VIT.  However when the crew palpated her, they felt what they thought were vaginal cysts on the vulva and the vestibule (canal leading to the bladder and ultimately the uterus) along with some blood.  Even though vaginal cysts are benign, protocol dictates aborting VIT insertion if anything is not “normal.”  So instead, she was fitted with a regular GPS collar only and sent on her way. 

Then a year to the day of her first capture, her collar went into mortality mode.  Investigation of this initial mortality site yielded the discovery of 2 deer beds.  After this, Doe 12810’s collar was back in “live” mode through March 21.  It is not out of the ordinary for GPS collars to have a hiccup.  So after 4 days with no evidence of a mortality, April resumed norm monitoring of this collar.  

But she checked on March 27 and Doe 12810 was in mortality mode again.  After hours of searching because of uncooperative signal bounce, Doe 12810 was found 3 days later. 


There was no sign of foul play.  No bites, no drag marks, no bullet holes, not even scavenged.  Just Doe 12810 in a depression in the ground.  Given she died less than a month from capture, capture myopathy was a possibility and something that needs to be documented.  Therefore, Doe 12810 was collected and brought to the lab for necropsy. 

What was found in necropsy surprised us all.  Doe 12810 had a large bladder mass.

Below is a photo of a normal bladder.

Normal bladder

This was the bladder of Doe 12810.


None of what you see in these photos is normal or should be there.  I mean nothing.

12810-bladder2 12810-bladder3

This is the clinical pathologist’s initial findings:

The bladder mass has a significant mesenchymal proliferation – often appearing quite spindloid as expected for smooth muscle cells (leiomyoma/leiomyosarcoma). There is atypia within the spindle cells. If this were a dog or cat, I would be concerned for leiomyosarcoma. I have seen inflammatory polyps with similar mesenchymal populations (usually not as atypical) – but they also have abundant mixed leukocytes.



Likely a tumor involving the bladder; possibly transitional cell carcinomas but histology is needed to confirm.  

If you were at the doctor’s office, this is the kind of news that would change your life forever.  We have been waiting on the histology report for confirmation and it finally arrived a couple of weeks ago.  

Final Diagnosis:  Transitional cell (urothelial) carcinoma

Comments on the diagnostic report state “Microscopic examination of the mass was consistent with a malignant neoplasm. Further, immunostaining for specific tissue markers suggests the cell type is of epithelial origin. Tumors of this nature are rare in deer and a specific cause cannot be determined.”

When Doe 12810 was captured on March 2, she was in the end stage of the disease.  And while my brain marvels at this rare finding and the incredible odds of discovering it, my heart weeps.  Deer die every day.  I write about tagged deer dying all the time.  Doe 12810 should be no different from any other but somehow she is. 

“I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill, 
When Spring comes round again this year 
And the first meadow-flowers appear.” 



-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section



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