Following the deaths of dozens of deer late last month, Montana wildlife officials have discovered the remains of more than 100 whitetails along the Clark Fork River near Missoula. According to the Missoulian, spokespeople from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) say that more deer in the area may soon die as well.

“The deer may show no outward symptoms of disease,” said FWP biologist Vickie Edwards. “People are seeing healthy looking deer fall over dead.”

Edwards and other FWP biologists are now investigating the cause of the deaths, but speculate that it may be epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD as it is commonly known. EHD is spread by biting midges and can also be contracted by livestock, although the disease is not transferable between mammals. EHD is a fast-killing disease which can cause animals to act strangely, neglect to eat, and eventually succumb to fatal hemorrhages. It does not affect humans.

Experts believe that EHD was also responsible for a large number of Montana deer deaths last year. Over 90 percent of the whitetail population along the Milk River from Malta to Glasgow perished. The 100-mile animal kill led many hunting outfitters and wildlife officials to call it the worse they had ever seen. In response, the number of deer hunting tags in northeast Montana plummeted from 5,000 to 2,000. In some areas of the state hunting was even suspended or tags refunded.

“It was horrendous,” Hunting outfitter Eric Albus told the Associated Press last year, “especially when you couple it with the fact that we lost 40 to 45 percent of our whitetail in the winter.”

FWP biologists say that EHD occurs occasionally in the state and is more common in Southern states. Meat from an animal with EHD is still safe to eat but hunters are stressed to be careful while field-dressing game.

The recent deaths of an entire elk herd in New Mexico may also be attributed to EHD. More about that can be read here.

Image courtesy Macomb Paynes/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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