Late last week, the state DEEP announced a small die-off of white tail deer in the Portland area. The discovery of the deer remains was made by a local hunter, whom I imagine was in the process of scouting the area ahead of the upcoming deer season.
The deer were found along a small body of water near the Connecticut River in the vicinity of Sand Hill Road in Portland. Several other deer were found dead not far from the original site, bringing the total to about 12 animals.
Although not confirmed at this time, officials at the DEEP suspect that the deer perished due to the effects of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). This malady, first documented in New Jersey in 1955, is transmitted through the bite of midges, aka sand flies or sand gnats.
There are several different forms of the disease, but in a new outbreak of the rapid form, deer usually succumb to its effects very quickly.
Hemorrhagic disease has been reported throughout the southeast and mid-Atlantic states. The last outbreak that I read about occurred in southern Virginia, just a few years ago.
New York State had an outbreak of the disease about 10 years ago which claimed at least 100 known deer. The Virginia outbreak also claimed a large number of deer.
It’s a bit of a puzzle trying to understand how the disease can seem to jump around from place to place so randomly, if in fact that is what killed the Portland deer.
The disease seems to occur in late summer or early fall, when midge numbers are at their highest. The first hard frost kills the virus-carrying insects, thus ending the outbreak.
Symptoms of the disease in deer include swollen head, neck or eyelids with a bloody discharge from the nose. Death occurs when bleeding from the heart and lungs causes respiratory failure. The disease also causes high fever in deer, which is why they are sometimes found near a water source.
One day this past spring, my wife and I were fishing along the Housatonic River in Shelton, when as we were walking along the shoreline, we happened upon the remains of about six deer. I had assumed that they may have simply drowned while trying to cross the river during the winter and had fallen through the ice, then the river deposited the remains where we found them. Looking back to that day now, I may have been wrong in my assumption.
Hemorrhagic disease will not infect people and rarely causes illness in domestic animals such as dogs or cats or farm animals. Hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts should exercise normal precautions if encountering sick or odd behavior in wild animals while afield.
Hopefully, the experts at the DEEP Wildlife Division will be able to identify the cause of death of the Portland deer. I, for one, hope that whatever the reason these deer died, it will prove to be an isolated incident.