ELKHART — Have you noticed fewer deer than usual?
Elkhartan Clarence Moseng, a long-time outdoorsman, and several of his friends and neighbors have spotted fewer of the animals this year. They have also come across a number of carcasses in and around Elkhart County.
Some deer may have been hit by vehicles or died of natural causes, but others were likely taken down by disease.
“I’m very concerned,” said Moseng. “Maybe we shouldn’t take our does out the next year or two? Between coyotes, hunting and disease we could run into serious problems in Elkhart County.”
This summer’s drought has led to the spread of illness — either epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) or a similar malady known as bluetongue — that may have thinned the herd.
“We have had this in other years and deer have rebounded,” said Patrick Mayer, North Region private lands supervisor for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “We have received calls about dead deer, but we can’t substantiate anything until after the hunting season. (EHD) is throughout the state. Some areas have been hit harder than others.”
The Indiana DNR tracks deer population — male, female and adolescent — in a number of ways, including those taken through hunting, accidents and disease.
Neither EHD nor bluetongue virus is spread by direct contact. Both are transmitted by tiny biting flies.
EHD, while not believed to be fatal for humans, is often deadly for animals.
The midge fly — mostly gone now with the hard frost — is the main vector for EHD in Indiana.
“EHD can be very devastating to a local deer herd,” said Chad Stewart, deer research biologist for the Indiana DNR. “We get these flare-up areas that are very intense.”
EHD is not a chronic disease that bides its time.
“It happens quite fast,” said Stewart. “Once it is bitten and the disease is transmitted to the deer, it could be dead in a week or two.”
Now that a hard frost has come to Indiana, most of the midge flies have been killed off.
“If someone sees a deer that has died recently, it’s likely from another cause (than EHD),” said Stewart. “I will say that deer killed by EHD are safe to eat.”
Bluetongue affects mainly sheep but also cattle, goats, deer and other ruminants.
According to the Indiana DNR, cases of EHD were confirmed this summer in samples collected from dead wild deer in LaGrange, Miami, Morgan and Sullivan counties and also suspected in 44 other counties including Elkhart. That’s the biggest outbreak since 2007 when EHD was reported by 59 Indiana counties and confirmed by lab tests in 17. There DNR offers no data on the actual number of deer deaths from the disease.
The Indiana State Board of Animal Health also identified EHD this year in captive cervid facilities in Adams, Marshall, Putnam and Vanderburgh counties and in cattle in Ripley County. Species in the Cervidae family include white-tailed deer, mule deer such as black-tailed deer, elk, moose, red deer, reindeer, fallow deer and chital — not all of which are found in Indiana.
Outbreaks of EHD tend to occur more in years with drought conditions like Indiana experienced during this past summer. Deer tend to congregate in larger groups during droughts, seeking the water that is available. This, in turn, helps aid the spread of viral disease.
There were also deer deaths linked to EHD in Cass and St. Joseph counties in Michigan in 2010 and 2011, according to the Michigan DNR.
Drivers should be aware of deer this fall
Fall is peak season for deer-related vehicle accidents and motorists should remember to drive defensively.
Knowing the following information, provided by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and practicing defensive driving will help reduce your chances of becoming a deer-vehicle collision statistic:
Fall is the most common season to strike a deer.
Deer are most active between sunset and sunrise.
Deer often travel in groups, so if you see one, another is likely nearby.
Be especially careful in areas where you have seen deer before.
Use high beams when there is no opposing traffic; scan for deer’s illuminated eyes or dark silhouettes along the side of the road.
If you see a deer, slow your speed drastically, even if it is far away.
Exercise extreme caution along woodlot edges, at hills, or blind turns.
Never swerve to avoid hitting a deer; most serious crashes occur when drivers try to miss a deer but hit something else.