Minnesota Wolves Suffering Mange (scabies) Disease

Wolf numbers and population recovery resilience can be especially undermined periodically by outbreaks of the contagious skin disease called mange or scabies. It can become endemic---literally embedded in a population. Factors such as poor nutrition and stress, (notably a quarter million deer hunters taking one third of their main food source every year, the White tailed deer, now exacerbated by 6,000 wolf hunters and trappers); also concurrent disease (such as hook worms) make animals susceptible to this contagious parasitic skin. It can spread rapidly within packs sharing the same resting-up and denning areas. Reported public sightings and photographing of emaciated wolves with little fur on their bodies and extensive bald patches near Duluth, relayed to the DNR, indicate that the wolves in this part of the state are sick and suffering. For them to be easily seen from the roadside indicates that these normally shy and elusive animals are in dire straits from this disease which is not entirely of their own making,  or some ‘natural’ occurrence. Sick animals indicate sick ecosystems. (Article continues below photo of wolf outside Duluth, MN suffering from mange)

Wolf with mange - Duluth MN

The parasite responsible for this disease, which can affect many species including humans, Sarcoptes scabiei, causes intense and distressing itching, often leading to secondary bacterial and fungal skin infections and extensive alopecia due to hair follicle damage. Infested wolves with little or no insulating fur left on their bodies have been known to seek warmth and shelter in out-buildings in rural areas, and will die of cold exposure when severely infested and lacking adequate coats. Bill Paul with the USDA Wildlife Service program in Northern Minnesota “believes mange, a skin problem that causes animals to die from exposure, may be reducing overall wolf numbers in Minnesota” according to a 2004 report by John Myers, ( Mange keeps MN wolf complaints down, Feb. 12, 2004, TWIN Observer, News Tribune). Mange was introduced into the Northern Rockies in 1909 by state wildlife veterinarians in an attempt to help eradicate local wolf and coyote populations.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Grey Wolf Western Great Lakes DPS  Post-Delisting Monitoring Program ( http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf/pdm),  the MN DNR is supposed to keep records of wolf diseases such as mange, which should be posted on their website as public information. How many of the over 400 wolves killed by hunters and trappers this past season showed signs of mange, and to what degree? What was the incidence of mange in wolves killed for preying on livestock by federal and state trappers and by private land owners ‘protecting’ their animals over the past decade? How many public sightings of mangy wolves have been received by the MN DNR?

Without adequate monitoring to estimate the severity of this and other periodically devastating wildlife diseases---which can be red flags indicating a species is in under stress/duress from multiple factors that need to be addressed by wildlife managers—how can Minnesota or any state set annual kill quotas for recreational and commercial killing of recently de-listed endangered species such as the wolf?  The above Monitoring Program  gives the option to states to set up disease-control and prevention initiatives for mange and other diseases ( such as hookworm, heartworm, rabies distemper and parvovirus), but such interventions, including selective culling, should be on an emergency basis and not be a substitute for healthy-ecosystem management policies and practices which include putting the interests of wolves and other predators before those of competing, non-indigenous and non-subsistence human predators.

One does not need to be a wildlife scientist or ‘expert’ to surmise that the impact of humans has enormous effect on the health and well-being of any wild species: Especially on a complex, intricate ‘social’ pack species like the wolf. When their environment is dramatically changed by thousands of insurgent hunters and trappers, the additional stress of being targets themselves is likely to exponentially exacerbate the stress- disease connection. No one can accurately quantify this, and ‘scientific evidence’ if any, comes after the fact, too late to prevent their suffering and demise.

 Language in this Monitoring Program I interpret as a binding agreement that when the MN wolf population falls below 1,500 it will be re-listed and given endangered species protection. But even before that contestable point is reached, a moratorium on the 2013-2014 MN wolf hunt should be instigated until the health status and more reliable population distribution census reports have been completed and posted for public review.

---Michael W. Fox, PhD, DSc, Veterinarian
Honor Roll Member of the AVMA
Author of The Soul of the Wolf.
Websites www.drfoxvet.com  www facebook.com/drfoxvet