VANCOUVER -- An animal rights organization in Cranbrook says a deer suffered unnecessarily when a cage-like trap that was supposed to hold it until morning somehow collapsed and, they believe, slowly suffocated the deer.

The description of how the deer died and photos of the deceased animal tangled in the collapsed trap were sent to Cranbrook Friends of Animal Society anonymously, Trev Miller told CTV News.

"The deer was caught in one of the clover traps and it spent about two hours struggling, and was able to collapse the trap onto itself, which should never happen," Miller said.

Chris Zettel, a communications officer with the City of Cranbrook, confirmed that the contractor the city uses to trap deer did find the clover trap collapsed around the dead male deer on Dec. 11. But, Zettel said, the trap also appeared to have been vandalized, with the mesh cut open, and the city has reported the incident to the RCMP.

Zettel said there have been a total of three incidents of traps being vandalized over the past five days. City documents show that since 2015, trap vandalism has put an early end to some previous efforts to cull the deer.

The deer trapping effort is a controversial one in the East Kootenay town of 21,000 people, where the urban deer population has exploded over the past decade. Residents have increasingly complained about aggressive deer, especially in the spring when does are caring for their fawns.

Those incidents – 38 in 2019 – have included people being charged by deer, dogs trampled and some residents being afraid to leave their houses, Zettel said.

"The City has confirmation of one dog being killed, and a second incident of a dog and its owner both being injured by a deer," according to a city report considered by council on Oct. 29.

"A third report of a man walking his dog being knocked to the ground by a deer was also received."

In an effort to bring down the number of deer in Cranbrook, the city has been trapping the animals in neighbourhoods where they've received a lot of complaints, Zettel said. The contractor the city uses kills the trapped animals with a bolt gun. The meat is donated to charity, while the city gives the hives, hooves and antlers to the Ktunaxa First Nation, Zettel said.

But Miller said the city should explore other, more humane options for controlling the deer population. This fall, the City of Oak Bay in Victoria gave around 60 female deer a vaccine that acts as a contraceptive. Miller would like to see Cranbrook look at a similar alternative.

Some areas in the United States are also sterilizing deer in an effort to bring down the numbers, Miller said.

"My understanding is it could be possible to change the nature of these interactions if we had better education about how humans and wildlife should be interacting safely together," he said.

While the deer population is booming in town, overall numbers of both whitetail and mule deer in the region are a concern. Recently, Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka called for a two-year moratorium on the whitetail doe hunt because of concerns about the health of the population, according to the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. Conservation groups are also concerned about the mule deer population

Zettel said the city by no means is trying to eliminate all the deer, but it is working to control the number of urban deer. Zettel also pointed out that Cranbrook's trapping effort have been approved by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and the city and its contractor are working under provincial guidelines.

Under the current permit, the city is allowed to kill up to 60 mule deer and 10 white-tail deer. The city has removed 141 deer since 2011, according to city council meeting documents.