A little-known disease has popped up in a western Wyoming mule deer herd, and researchers are doing the best they can to understand it.
In the rugged landscape of its western border, Wyoming mule deer fawns were dying last summer and fall from a little known disease called adenovirus. The discovery came as part of a larger study of the iconic mule deer by professors of the University of Wyoming.
The alarming thing was the fawns exhibited no symptoms and appeared otherwise healthy. Then one day they simply curled up and died according to researchers.
“It’s not too common for animals, especially a three-week-old fawn that is otherwise healthy, to go lay down and die. When you see a young animal that is otherwise healthy go lay down and die, you wonder what disease it is,” said researcher Kevin Monteith.
This past summer researchers radio collared over 50 Wyoming mule deer fawns and by late fall, 22 had died, 8 from the same ambiguous disease. It wasn’t until Monteith reflected on time spent in California that he solved the mystery of what was killing the fawns.
The adenovirus disease is believed to be transmitted orally between deer and causes severe internal bleeding and fluid to fill the lungs. Toward the end it causes uncontrollable salivation and seizures prior to the death of the animal.
In order to keep better surveillance of the disease, the researchers will continue to track the Wyoming mule deer fawns over the course of the upcoming year. Although this process is time consuming and expensive, it can hopefully help the team better understand this relatively unknown disease.
At this point the research team is not ready to take any special measures to stop the disease. Although a potent killer, adenovirus does not appear to be as lethal as diseases like blue-tongue and chronic wasting disease.
If the results from the upcoming year’s study reveals a reoccurrence of the disease, the Wyoming Game and Fish may begin to take measures against the disease.