WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease - The HuntingPA.com Outdoor Community

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post #1 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-19-2014, 04:17 AM Thread Starter
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WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

What's next, squirrels with aviator goggles?

You wouldn't expect to see a critter looking like Rocky the flying squirrel of cartoon fame in the woods. But then, white-tailed deer that look like Bullwinkle the moose have started showing up across the country.

Deer with swollen, moose-like faces have popped up from Alabama to Delaware to Michigan since 2005. Scientists have examined a dozen or so, finding accumulated fluid in their muzzles — especially their noses and upper lips — each time.

What causes the disease, what impact it might have and how widespread it is remain unknown. In fact, the disease doesn't even have an official name yet. Scientists refer to animals with it as “Bullwinkle” deer.

“It's not like anything else we've seen in deer,” said Kevin Keel, an associate professor at the University of California, Davis school of veterinary medicine and the nation's leading expert on the malady.

“This is an interesting disease because we're not sure if it's new. It might be something that's always occurred but at such a low prevalence that maybe it was always there, and we just didn't know about it.”

That could be, as there are more people with more trail cameras looking for and at deer than ever before, said John Fischer, director of the 57-year-old Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia's college of veterinary medicine. But “new” diseases popping up seemingly from out of nowhere are hardly unheard of either, he said.

It's a mystery as to what's going in this case, he said.

“As for Bullwinkle deer, I cannot say if it is a new disease or it's just now made the radar screen after being out there for many years,” Fischer said.

The disease doesn't kill deer outright. Hunters and others have reported seeing such deer over two-year periods, according to information from Quality Deer Management Association spokesman Lindsay Thomas.

Keel said Bullwinkle deer suffer chronic weight loss that likely hastens their death by making them more susceptible to other forms of mortality, such as predation, weakness and being hit by vehicles.

The diseased deer examined so far — all whitetails, with the exception of one mule deer from Idaho — have been wild animals, Keel said. No farm-raised Bullwinkle deer have been reported.

There's “some correlation” to feeding of deer, but whether feeding is an issue or whether it's just that fed deer are more visible is unclear, Keel said. Beyond that, there's nothing linking them, he said.

The disease may or may not even be specific to deer, he noted, pointing out that something similar has been found in the withers and shoulders of South American cattle.

He and fellow researchers have “narrowed down” possible causes for the disease. He declined to discuss that until his research is published in a scientific journal.

“But it's a novel bacterial infection that we have not seen in white-tailed deer before,” he said.

Justin Brown, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wildlife veterinarian, did not return phone calls seeking comment on whether the disease has been found in Pennsylvania. But Keel said he believes it's probably here. That's not necessarily a cause for concern, he said.

“It doesn't seem to have any impact on deer populations,” Keel said.

Other diseases have come from out of nowhere to devastating effect, however.

White-nose syndrome in bats was only first discovered in New York in the winter of 2006-07. The fungal disease has killed more than 5.7 million bats — nearly 100 percent of some populations — across 22 states and five Canadian provinces since, according to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center.

EHD, or epizootic hemorrhagic disease, the most common disease of white-tailed deer, was for decades largely a southern phenomenon, Keel said. It's spread nationwide in recent years, though. The Game Commission confirmed it in Pennsylvania in 1996, 2002, 2007 — when it killed thousands of deer in Western Pennsylvania — and 2012.

There's no reason to think Bullwinkle disease will have that kind of impact, Keel said. But then nothing's certain in this era of “emerging disease issues in wildlife populations,” he added.

“Things can change over time,” Keel said. “We'd just like to be prepared and forewarned.”

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post #2 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-19-2014, 04:18 AM Thread Starter
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Re: WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

What to do with a Bullwinkle

Most of the Bullwinkle deer scientists have examined so far were taken by hunters. They'd like to get a look at more.

The Quality Deer Management Association recommends that if you see or photograph a Bullwinkle deer, you notify the Pennsylvania Game Commission. If you kill a Bullwinkle deer in future seasons, keep the head on ice, without freezing it, and take it to the commission's nearest office, it said.

It's probably not a good idea to eat the deer, though.

“The long-term nature of the infection could mean that bacteria are present in the blood and muscle, or a secondary infection could also have developed. Better to be safe than sorry,” it said.

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post #3 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-19-2014, 04:34 AM Thread Starter
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Re: WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

Whitetails are hardened survivors. They thrive despite predators, highways, heat waves, blizzards, floods, drought and poachers with spotlights. They get hung in fences, fall down old wells, and crash through plate-glass windows. They snag their antlers on our garbage, including buckets, basketballs and barbed wire. They collect tumors, warts, brain infections and blood-sucking parasites. But one of the weirdest afflictions of whitetails you are unlikely to encounter is so new it doesn’t even have a scientific-sounding name yet. The unfortunate victims are called “Bullwinkle” deer because their snouts balloon to moose-like proportions (pause for Millennials to find “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” on YouTube and make the cultural connection).

QDMA has been aware of Bullwinkle deer since the mid-2000s when we started receiving occasional photos taken by hunters, and we contacted the whitetail disease authorities at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study unit (SCWDS). They were already on the case, but after a decade of investigations the disease is still mysterious. In their most recent quarterly newsletter, wildlife disease expert Dr. Kevin Keel shared what little is known. Here are some highlights from that report.

• Since 2005, SCWDS has received 10 samples of Bullwinkle deer from all over the whitetail’s range, with a far northern case in Michigan and the southernmost case in Alabama. The cases are widely scattered with no geographic patterns or concentrations, so it appears the problem is not easily spread from deer to deer, if at all. The photos above and on the right are of a deer killed by Gordon Murph in Alabama in 2008, showing the typical symptoms.

• The swollen snouts of afflicted deer result from chronic (long-term) inflammation of the tissues of the nose, mouth and upper lip. All of the cases involved similar colonies of bacteria in the inflamed tissues, but isolating the guilty bacteria has been difficult due to poor sample condition and contamination from many other non-guilty bacteria. How and where deer acquire the Bullwinkle bacteria is still unknown.

• All of the cases of Bullwinkle deer submitted by state wildlife agencies have been since 2005. No cases appear in 50 years of SCWDS files prior to that year. Is this because the disease itself is new, or because hunters can instantaneously share photos through the Internet now and our awareness of the rare disease is enhanced?

• While the Bullwinkle infection is no doubt uncomfortable for the victim, it doesn’t appear to be lethal. All of the samples have been submitted from deer killed by hunters. QDMA has also received trail-camera photos of Bullwinkle deer that appeared otherwise healthy and that were photographed on multiple occasions over time. SCWDS said one person saw the same Bullwinkle deer several times over a period of two years. The photos below were sent to QDMA by Kevin Payne and were taken in South Carolina in 2011.


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post #4 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-19-2014, 09:29 AM
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Re: WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

Thanks for posting.
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post #5 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-19-2014, 10:00 AM
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Re: WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

Interesting yet disturbing. Over the past 15 years or so different diseases in animals and pests (i.e. ticks with lyme) have been showing up quite often. Is the cause of environmental change, water quality, urban sprawl or just the fact information is so readily available now that it's easier for the general public to access reports like this.

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post #6 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-19-2014, 07:57 PM
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Re: WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

I've never seen anything like that! Thanks for posting.

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post #7 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-19-2014, 10:04 PM
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Re: WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

At some point hunters will be afraid to consume deer meat and subsequently stop hunting whitetails. Might be an over supply of deer running the woods, all diseased and deformed, hopefully that wont happen.......
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post #8 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 02:36 AM
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Re: WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

I'd be curious to know if anyone knows when this first started showing up.


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post #9 of 9 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 11:02 AM
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Re: WANTED: Bullwinkle Deer - New Disease

How much do you want to wager that these infections are related to certain types of pesticides?
saw this in a Pygmy goat that came into the Vets. Ended up being a severe allergy or infection from a pesticide. This was years ago.

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