El Research Group in Animal Science applied to Game and Wildlife Management of the Institute for Game and Wildlife Research (IREC – CSIC, UCLM, JCCM) is one of the founding groups of the IREC (actually, it predates the IREC itself), and its objective is the study of red deer and other game ungulates using the detailed techniques of animal science (also known as animal production) normally applied on a farm (in this case the Experimental Deer Farm of the University of Castilla-La Mancha).
The objective of the group is not only to study aspects more typical of animal science such as lactation and factors that affect it, nutrition (especially minerals but also other specific nutrients), antler growth and factors that affect its size and structure, but also to evaluate the effects of ecological (particularly climatic), physiological (hormones, blood parameters) and any factors that may be of importance in the management of hunting and ungulate populations (including behavioral aspects such as diet selection, differential parental investment in sons vs. daughters, or dominance hierarchy studies).
This has led to a line of study on the understanding of the different factors that affect the mineral composition and mechanical behavior of the bone (not only of the antlers, but also of internal bones), and of the biology of the growing antlers, which has a highly valued animal product component (up to €21.000/kg) in Chinese traditional (trial and error) medicine. At the same time, these two lines and the study of physiological osteoporosis in red deer have led to the development of lines that may have implications for human medicine.. Among them and the most recent since 2021, the anticancer effect of antler extract in various types of tumors, both in cell cultures and animal models.
The red deer (Cervus elaphus) is probably the most important game species and the one that moves the most money in the world. In Spain alone, it is estimated that there are about 650.000 red deer in private lands and probably more than a million in total, whose management and use generate an economic impact estimated at around 2.600 million euros. Its greatest hunting value is the trophy, so knowing the ecological-physiological factors that affect the antlers of males can be very relevant when it comes to improving the economic performance of managed populations.
The variety of objectives of our research are:
- Develop a diagnostic tool based on the mineral composition, structure and mechanics of the antlers, to assess the quality of hunting management, nutritional status or other aspects. As an extension to this, the study of effects on internal bones and physiological osteoporosis (annual) of red deer.
- Study of lactation as a phase of greater investment and of great importance of reproduction, as well as the growth of the kittens. Among other factors, we have evaluated the effect of mineral nutrition, or diet selection.
- Applications in medicine of the previous studies. Especially, the anticancer effect of the extract of growing antlers in different types of tumors (cell cultures or animal models), derived from the antitumor protection against the growth of the antler based on proto-oncogenes (similar to the genes that cause cancer).
- Study of deer products: from meat quality (in collaboration with groups such as CETECA from Galicia) to processing of growing antlers for the Asian traditional Chinese medicine market (2000 billion users).