Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Hand-to-fang with a rabid raccoon

Shouldn't have messed with Mama

Think a mama grizzly bear is ferocious?

Ma Griz has nothing on Anna Avery of Beach Lake, Pa., who pried apart the jaws of a rabid raccoon to make it stop biting her young son. Then the adrenaline-charged mom used her body weight to suffocate the snarling animal.

The full story is here, in the Wayne Independent. Good read.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in the Outdoor Pressroom.


In U.S., wildlife bites cause most rabies cases

The rabies virus

Now that most domestic dogs and cats are routinely vaccinated against rabies, most cases of rabies among humans are caused by bites from wildlife — raccoons, skunks, etc.

Here’s the scoop, from the Associated Press:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rabies prevention in the United States is by and large a success story, with just one to four people dying of rabies each year in the U.S. thanks to widespread pet vaccinations and aggressive treatment for people bitten by potentially rabid animals.
Around the world, however, rabies remains a major problem with more than 55,000 human deaths annually, along with millions of animals. Half of the human victims are under 15.
In Asia and Africa, where 95 percent of human rabies deaths occur, dogs spread most of the rabies, according to the World Health Organization.
In the United States, most rabies cases before 1960 were also in domestic animals, but today more than 90 percent of all animal cases reported annually to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control occur in wildlife, most frequently in raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes.
About 7,000 animals die as a result of rabies in the U.S. each year; Hawaii is the only state where there is no rabies. Around the world, Australia and Antarctica are also rabies-free.
Rabies is a virus that targets the brain and spinal cord. It is found in the saliva of infected animals and is most often transferred through a bite. Birds, fish, insects, reptiles and other non-mammals do not get rabies, and it’s rare in chipmunks, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, rabbits, rats and squirrels, health officials said.
Americans spend more than $300 million annually to detect, prevent and control rabies, the CDC estimates. This includes the vaccination of companion animals, animal control programs, maintenance of rabies labs and medical costs.
About 40,000 Americans a year have to get the two-week series of four shots (five if you have immune problems) after being bitten. Often the shots are administered as a preventive measure after a bite, whether or not the animal is caught and tested. These shots cost more than $1,000 a series and are injected into the hip rather than the stomach as they once were.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has no statistics on pet vaccination rates, and laws requiring vaccinations vary by state. But inoculating pets against rabies — which costs just $15-$30 — is a no-brainer for many owners. Rabies is always fatal in unvaccinated animals, and pets can get the disease from raccoons or other wildlife. And if your pet bites someone, proof will be required to show that your animal is rabies-free.
“Protect yourself and your pet, not just from rabies, but from legal trouble and emotional stress and strain,” said veterinarian Louise Murray, vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City.
During 2009, 81 rabid dogs were reported in the United States, an 8 percent increase over 2008, and 300 rabid cats were reported, a 2 percent increase compared to the previous year, the CDC said.
In 2009, Pennsylvania reported the largest number of rabid domestic animals — 65 — in any state, followed by Virginia with 55. Both states have laws requiring dog and cat vaccinations.
Nationwide, raccoons are the biggest rabies carriers, comprising 34.8 percent of all cases in 2009.
People consider them cute, Murray said. “People are never going to go to a bat on purpose. Raccoons are different. People feed raccoons,” she said.
To cut down on rabies in wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Program distributes rabies vaccine cubes by air and ground. The agency started drops for gray foxes and coyotes in south Texas in 1995 and since 2002, has maintained a 30-mile wide rabies-free zone north of the Mexican border, said USDA spokeswoman Carol Bannerman.
More recently, the agency has made annual vaccine pellet drops for raccoons east of the Appalachians from Maine to Alabama. Last year, about 5.6 million baits were distributed in 16 states, she said.
Arizona’s gray foxes also get annual drops.
In Southern California, bats are the primary source of rabies, said Dr. Karen Ehnert, acting director for the veterinary public health and rabies control problem for Los Angeles County, which is on track to record about 20 rabid bats this year.
Around the state, rabies has been documented in 50 bats so far this year, and 144 bats in 2010, with other cases in skunks, foxes and a couple of dogs, said Dr. Gil Chavez, state epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health.
In Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Grenada, the main source of rabies is the mongoose, a ferret-like creature, according to Brenda Rivera Garcia, acting state public health veterinarian for the Puerto Rico Department of Health.
She also heads the coordinating committee for the 22nd International Conference on Rabies in the Americas, which takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a few weeks after World Rabies Day, Sept. 28, when individuals and organizations around the world work to create awareness about the disease.
“So many lives are lost as a result of this preventable disease,” she said.

Lowly lichens might help battle deer disease

CWD infected deer (NY Dept. of Env. Conservation)

Scientists might soon have a new ally in the battle against chronic wasting disease of deer.


You read right. Those scaly little organisms — part fungus, part plant (sort of) — seem to contain a substance that helps degrade prions, the rogue proteins that cause the disease.

The Wisconsin State Journal has the full story.

It probably will be years before researchers find a way to exploit the substance, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Here in West Virginia, where CWD infects deer in Hampshire and Hardy counties, a mechanism for fighting the disease would be most welcome.

Hey Minnesota — West Virginia feels your pain!

CWD infected deer (NY Dept. of Env. Conservation)

The wages of chronic wasting disease are death.

Now that CWD has been discovered in southeastern Minnesota, wildlife officials and landowners are going about the grim task of making sure the disease doesn’t spread. They’re doing that by killing deer, and lots of them.

Landowners who live within 10 miles of the Pine Island site where the disease was discovered have killed about 400 deer. Biologists have taken tissue samples from the deer and are testing them for signs of the rogue proteins that cause CWD.

The story is here, in the Rochester (Minn.) Post-Bulletin.

We in West Virginia are familiar with the drill. After CWD was discovered in Hampshire County in 2005, wildlife officials undertook a similar sampling effort — albeit with Division of Natural Resources personnel pulling the triggers. Bag limits in the county were liberalized to reduce the deer population and therefore the chance the disease might get spread. Biologists set up shop at game-checking stations to take samples from hunter-killed whitetails.

Since the spring of 2006, DNR shooters have killed more than 750 deer for sampling, all within about a 10-mile radius of the Slanesville site where West Virginia’s initial CWD case was identified. Another sampling effort is scheduled for spring. It’s a grim job, but it’s got to be done.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

Ohio investigates goose deaths

Waterfowl along Lake Erie (AP photo)

First there were the mysterious bird die-offs in Arkansas. Then there were reports from other areas about hard-to-explain wildlife mortalities.

The latest comes from Ohio, where Canada geese are dying along the shores of Lake Erie. From the Associated Press:

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Dozens of geese have been found dead along the Lake Erie shore and others are so sick that they are unable to fly, wildlife officials said.
Many have been found dead near Toledo, where the geese often gather in the open waters of the lake. But others have been found dead in a nearby river and along the lake 70 miles away near Cleveland.
“They will fall out of the sky and have trouble staying upright,” said Dave Sherman, a biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Wildlife experts are awaiting tests on some of the dead birds to determine the cause.
The number of dead geese appears to be smaller than the massive bird die-offs that have gained attention elsewhere around the country. Those deaths in Arkansas — where officials believe the birds were spooked by fireworks — and subsequent ones in Tennessee, Kentucky and Louisiana aren’t believed to be connected or a sign of widespread contagion.
In Ohio, wildlife officials first noticed that mallard ducks were showing signs of an illness a few weeks ago, but now it’s mostly Canada geese.
State wildlife officer Cody Klima told The Blade newspaper that he picked up about two dozen dead geese in the last few weeks. He said thin ice on the lake is preventing them from reaching more geese.
“I’m guessing some of them are drowning,” Klima said. “They lose their coordination and flip upside down.”
Some of the sick geese have been dropped off at a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center in Castalia — 18 of 23 geese have died, said Sarah Langdon, a supervisor at Back to the Wild. The five others are acting normal again and may be released soon, she said.

CWD spreads to another W.Va. county

NY Dept. of Env. Conservation photo

Bad news — no, make that awful news — from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Chronic wasting disease has spread to another county.

From 2005 until recently, DNR efforts had helped contain the disease to southern Hampshire County. But in a survey of more than 1,000 deer killed by hunters last season, a Hardy County-killed whitetail tested positive.

Read the DNR news release for details. The Hardy County angle is buried a bit, so be patient:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Preliminary test results indicate the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) agent was present in 10 hunter-harvested deer collected during the 2010 deer firearms hunting season. 
As part of our agency’s ongoing CWD monitoring effort, samples were collected from 1,056 hunter-harvested deer brought to game checking stations in Hampshire County and one station near the southern Hampshire County line in Hardy County,” said Frank Jezioro, Director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR). 
The 10 CWD-positive deer included two 2.5 year-old does, two 1.5 year-old bucks, five 2.5 year-old bucks, and one 3.5 year-old buck. Nine of the latest positive deer were harvested within the borders of Hampshire County. However, one was harvested in Hardy County near the border with Hampshire County. The area in West Virginia from which CWD has been detected continues to expand, as evident with the latest CWD positive deer from northern Hardy County.  The number of infected deer detected in West Virginia in 2010 now totals 22, two less than the number of infected deer detected in 2009.
CWD has now been detected in 83 deer in Hampshire County and one deer in Hardy County for a total of 84 CWD-positive deer in West Virginia. The DNR will continue to update management actions designed to control the spread of this disease, prevent further introduction of the disease, and possibly eliminate the disease from the state as information from deer testing within West Virginia is gathered and scientists across the country provide more information on how to combat CWD in white-tailed deer.
“The detection of the positive CWD deer in Hardy County is discouraging,” said Jezioro.  “As we strive to meet this wildlife disease challenge and implement appropriate management strategies, the continued support and involvement of landowners and hunters will be essential.” 
An expansion of the current ban on supplemental feeding and baiting of deer in Hampshire County is being considered with the occurrence of this CWD-positive deer in Hardy County. Current research indicates that supplemental feeding and baiting of deer increases the chance of disease transmission far above the normal clustering of deer on natural and agricultural feeding areas. The DNR remains committed to keeping the public informed and involved in wildlife disease management actions. 

A pox on deer hunters? Say it ain’t so!

A parapox lesion (CDC&P photo)

Deer hunters who nick their fingers while field-dressing deer might end up with ugly-looking sores from a previously unknown virus.

The sores, caused by a newly discovered member of the parapox group of viruses, are unsightly and uncomfortable but apparently not life-threatening.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have documented two cases of the virus, one in Virginia and the other in Connecticut. Both hunters recovered fully within a few months.  National Public Radio has the full story.

CDC scientists say the virus has no apparent negative effect on the deer that carry it.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at The Outdoor Pressroom.

Chronic wasting disease shows up again

NY Dept. of Env. Conservation

North Dakota wildlife officials had hoped the case of chronic wasting disease that showed up in 2009 was nothing but an isolated phenomenon.

No such luck.

A second case has now been confirmed. A routine test of a hunter-killed mule deer turned up the telltale proteins, called prions, that cause the disease.

Here’s the story, in the Oklahoman.

Things sure do get tangled up when Chronic Wasting Disease rears its ugly head. This just in from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Hunters are advised that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was detected in Virginia in 2009; therefore, special carcass transportation regulations become effective and whole deer harvested in Virginia may not be transported into West Virginia, according to Frank Jezioro, Director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR). Hunters who harvest deer in Virginia may bring into West Virginia only the meat from which all bones have been removed, the cape, antlers or antlers and skull plate from which all meat or tissue has been removed, cervid canines and finished taxidermy heads.
CWD is a neurological disease found in deer and elk that belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. The disease is thought to be caused by abnormal, proteinaceous particles called prions that slowly attack the brain of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to progressively become emaciated, display abnormal behavior and invariably results in the death of the infected animal.  There is no known treatment for CWD. It is important to note that currently there is no evidence to suggest CWD poses a risk for humans or domestic animals.
The discovery of CWD in Hampshire County, West Virginia, in 2005 represents a significant threat to the state’s white-tailed deer. While the disease does not cause an immediate widespread die-off of deer, if allowed to spread, CWD could cause long-term damage to the herd. Those who have tried to predict the outcome of the disease on a deer population have described the disease as a 30- to 50-year epizootic. Due to the uncertain ramifications that CWD may have on the state’s white-tailed deer resource, WVDNR implemented appropriate actions as described in its CWD Incident Response Plan. Part of this plan includes prohibiting hunters from bringing in whole animals and certain tissues from areas known to have positive cases of CWD.
While there are many scientific uncertainties regarding the basic biology and ecology of CWD that may hinder development of efficient strategies for combating this disease in free-ranging deer, the actions outlined in this plan are designed to accomplish the following goals:
  • Determine the prevalence and the distribution of CWD through enhanced surveillance efforts.
  • Communicate and coordinate with the public and other appropriate agencies on issues relating to CWD and the steps being taken to respond to this disease.
  • Initiate appropriate management actions necessary to control the spread of this disease, prevent further introductions of the disease, and possibly eliminate the disease from the state.
“As we strive to meet this wildlife disease challenge and implement appropriate management strategies, the support and involvement of landowners and hunters remains essential,” said Director Jezioro. “The WVDNR is committed to keeping the public informed and involved in these wildlife disease management actions.”

West Virginia’s most unusual deer season

Hunters' quarry

Later this week, hunters will venture afield for West Virginia’s most unusual deer-hunting season.

The two-day season, Oct. 29-30, is open in only one county — Hampshire County, home to the state’s only deer population infected with chronic wasting disease.

Division of Natural Resources officials imposed the special antlerless-deer season four years ago for two reasons — to slow the spread of CWD by thinning the whitetail population, and to provide DNR researchers with the tissue samples they need to keep tabs on the disease.

Hunters who take part in the Hampshire hunt are subject to special regulations. For example, they aren’t allowed to bait or feed deer. In the rest of the state, baiting is legal.

Hunters also must adhere to some pretty stringent rules for transporting dead deer outside the county. Here’s the list, straight from the DNR’s 2010 Hunting Regulations booklet:

Hunters are prohibited from transporting dead cervids (deer, elk, etc.) or their parts beyond the boundary of the containment area except for the following: 1. meat that has been boned out, 2. quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached, 3. cleaned hide with no head attached, 4. clean skull plate (no meat or tissue attached) with antlers attached, 5. antlers with no meat or tissue attached, and 6. finished taxidermy mounts.

Hunters may transport cervid carcasses that were not killed inside the containment area through the containment area.