JONES, Mich. - It’s becoming a concerning trend in Southwest Michigan. Deer are turning up dead but they’re not getting hit by cars. Biologists think they’re dying from a disease that’s been multiplying in Michiana over the past few years. This year Cass County seems to be a hot bed for the sickness.
Steve Chadwick, a Wildlife Biologist for the Michigan DNR post in Jones, MI, is tagging two more deer found dead in just the last two days. “We’ve received numerous phone calls from Dowagiac to Edwardsburg, of dead deer,” Chadwick says.
The deer seem to be dying from a disease, carried by gnats, called Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease or E.H.D. Two cases were confirmed by the state in Cass County last week.
“Once symptoms start to show up they’re pretty much on borrowed time, it’s between 48 and 72 hours (until they die),” says Chadwick. Infected deer, bitten by the gnats, die from internal bleeding. In the hours leading up to the deer's death, they lose an appetite and fear of humans.
According to DNR officials in Lansing, it’s a growing trend. Before 2006, there were only two reported cases in the state. One case was reported in 1955 and another reported in 1974. Since 2006, the numbers have risen dramatically.
“We think in Cass, Van Buren and Berrien counties we’ve lost somewhere around 500 deer in these three counties last year,” says Chadwick. This year, already, the estimate is up to 70.
“You never know what they’re going to do,” says Sandy Darr. Darr works on M-62, where there've been a concentration between Cassopolis and Dowagiac. Darr says she’s worried it’ll add to the problem of hitting deer on the road. “My friend just hit a deer the other day. (It) just bounced off her truck and ran off,” she says.
“There’s not much that we can do, there’s no cure for this,” says Chadwick. He says the bigger problem is not knowing what will happen to Michigan’s deer population if disease keeps getting worse. “At this point there are no plans to restrict hunting or change any of the rules this year," he says. "We’ll just keep an eye on things.”
Humans aren’t affected by the disease, whether they consume the meat or get bitten by one of the gnats.
The DNR says they think E.H.D is getting worse in Michigan because of global climate change. They think the gnats that carry the disease are migrating north into larger deer populations.