Rare disease kills deer on campus links

By Web Master

By Sean Garner

Campus Editor

It was one rough summer for deer in the greater Detroit area, including the three found dead on Oakland University’s Katke-Cousins Golf Course.

After an outbreak of the rare Episodic Hemorrhagic Disease, many deer in Oakland and Macomb counties began to exhibit strange behavior such as constant stumbling, frothing at the mouth and acting oblivious to the presence of humans.  

The issue was serious enough that the Rochester Hills Parks and Forestry Department issued a warning to the Oakland University Police Department concerning a “deer die-off,” who then relayed the message to the students via a notice on the OU website.

The deer deaths were not simply restricted to OU. Mike Hartner, the head of the Rochester Hills Parks and Forestry Department, said over a dozen deaths have been reported at Rochester Hills’ Bloomer Park.

Hartner said many of the deer, who likely contracted the disease from the high number of gnats around this summer, have displayed several uncharacteristic behavioral traits, including a couple deer who were found leaning up against houses.

Deer infected with EHD typically develop high fevers and severely dried mouths, which leads them to gravitate towards water.  

“One of the telltale signs for this disease is that you find dead deer in the river,” Hartner said. “That was one of the things that alerted us to the problem in the first place. Canoers and kayakers were finding a number of dead deer in the Clinton River.”

Dr. Tom Cooley, a wildlife biologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, estimated that approximately 50 to 75 deer have died in Oakland and Macomb counties because of the disease.  

According to Cooley, die-off due to EHD has only occurred four times since 1954, with one outbreak occurring in Allegan County in 2006.  

Cooley says that when EHD does strike a community it is not likely to spread very far.

“What usually happens is what we’ve got, which is a lot of deer dying in a relatively small locale,” Cooley said. “Usually when we hear about a large number of deer dying around a certain body of water this is the first thing we suspect.”

According to OUPD Lt. Mel Gilroy, the last report of a dead deer on campus came just days before classes began.  

The notice issued by the OUPD advised students not to approach deer acting bizarrely, and also to notify police if they make such a sighting.

“Just stay away from the animals,” Gilroy warns. “These deer are not out attacking people. They’re just sick. There is no indication they are any risk to people whatsoever.”

According to Cooley, not only are humans not under any threat of physical attack from infected deer, but they also cannot contract the disease and neither can their pets.

“Really the only animal that could be affected by it are cattle,” Cooley said. “Dogs and cats are immune, as are people. Even in cattle, the risk is probably quite low.”