November 25, 2013 at 3:11 am #1290MikeKeymaster
West Texas deer deaths to be checked
By JACK DOUGLAS JR.
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
Animal disease experts are scheduled to go to West Texas next week to
investigate an unusual number of deaths of white-tailed deer, all
found dead or dying near stock tanks or other water sources.
The deaths — which come as hunters prepare for deer season — are
believed to be caused by an ailment related to bluetongue disease,
known clinically as epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which cannot be
passed to humans, according to animal scientists and the Texas
Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Officials said there is no immediate cause for public health concern.
But they said they have not ruled out anthrax, which can be
transmitted to people, as a cause for the deaths in a six-county area
south of San Angelo.
“We don’t know.. Anthrax is not out of the question,” said Dale
Rollins, a wildlife specialist for the Texas Cooperative Extension
Service in San Angelo.
Hunters, ranchers or anyone else who comes across a dead or dying
white-tailed deer should use “extreme caution,” said Don Davis, with
the department of veterinary pathobiology at Texas A&M University.
“We’re not 100 percent sure of what it is,” Davis said.
The drought has weakened the immune systems of deer and other
wildlife, and a recent spate of rains has helped spawn a biting,
virus-spreading fly, the culicoides. So it’s more likely that the
deaths are from epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, officials said.
“There’s a lot more indication that it’s bluetongue or EHD simply
because we’re not seeing the mortality in other creatures,” said
Clayton Wolf, the Parks and Wildlife Department’s big-game director.
Reports of unexplained deer deaths began coming in several weeks ago,
centered in Schleicher County and the surrounding ranchland counties
of Concho, Tom Green, Menard, Crockett and Sutton.
The number of deaths is unknown, but Davis said one report totaled
two dozen dead deer on one ranch. Another rancher reported finding 15
deer, both male and female, dead and submerged in his stock pond.
A team of wildlife specialists and animal disease experts,
coordinated by the Parks and Wildlife Department, is scheduled to
begin work in the area next week.
“They’re going to actually try to find freshly dead deer, or [living]
deer in poor condition, and try to perform [autopsies] to get to the
bottom of this,” said Mitch Lockwood, director of the department’s
Residents in the deer-hunting parts of Texas are reluctant to talk
about a disease outbreak because it could discourage hunting, an
extra source of income for the six counties.
But officials said a cause for the deaths should be determined before
archery hunting of deer begins Sept. 30. Gun season begins Nov. 4.
Even if a hunter bags an infected deer, Lockwood said, “there’s no
concerns with humans consuming meat from a deer that has EHD.”
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