ITHACA, N.Y. (WWTI) — Scientists in New York are linking the spread of new deadly diseases impacting the state’s native wildlife to climate change.
Since 2020, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Wildlife Veterinarian Elizabeth Bunting has been working to combat the spread of biting midges, causing deadly diseases in mammal populations such as deer.
According to Cornell, in the fall of 2020 when a storm hit the Northeastern United States, biting midges known as Culicoides midges, were swept up into the region and deposited across New York.
Once present in the State, they began biting native deer populations, and soon after, deer in the Hudson Valley began showing symptoms of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which is spread by the midges. These symptoms included weakness, bruising, swollen tongue and loss of fear of humans.
These symptoms among deer populations were observed by a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Field Biologist, who contacted Bunting at Cornell.
Cornell said that Bunting was aware that epizootic hemorrhagic disease could spread to both wild deer and captive herds and cattle so she alerted partners across the state about the outbreak through the New York State Wildlife Health Program, which allowed partners and the DEC to begin control methods.
This program is led through a partnership with Cornell and the DEC to coordinate responses when disease strikes New York’s wild animals.
Although the outbreak only killed about 1,500 wild deer that fall, Bunting warned that the spread of new diseases like epizootic hemorrhagic disease is linked to climate change.
“Because of climate change, we are seeing more insect-borne diseases moving into New York,” Bunting said in a press release. “Collecting data from these outbreaks helps us to investigate the why, how and where so that the agency can make sound management decisions.”
To combat diseases like epizootic hemorrhagic disease, spread by pests and linked to climate change, Cornell is working to continue its Wildlife Health program. In April 2021, the DEC renewed the Wildlife Health Program for a third five-year contract, this time for $6.4 million.
Cornell confirmed that the program examines 1,600 wildlife annually and generates and centralizes diagnostic data, perform epidemiological modeling, advise on health-related policy, and make it all easily accessible to the state and public.