Alberni rancher worried deadly virus has wiped out local deer herd

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Gary Prebble lives on a large property north of Port Alberni where for decades large herds of deer and Elk have roamed, but he recently witnessed a disturbing sight.

“One day I noticed a doe stumbling about and I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “So I got close and it didn’t even try to move. She was frothing at the mouth and she was emaciated and stumbling around.”

He called a provincial veterinarian who asked him to put it down and bury it on site.

“They were aware of the virus that it was migrating through here,” added Prebble. “They thought it was in Coombs, I believe, but not this far west but they said that’s definitely what it was.”

The virus is called Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease or AHD It is usually rapid and fatal as it damages small blood vessels in the lungs and intestines.

It spreads through nose-to-nose contact but there is no evidence humans, pets and livestock are at risk.

It was discovered in California in 1993 and then on Salt Spring Island earlier this year.

Lothar Haack has owned the Somers Road property for 52 years and says there’s always been abundant wildlife on the 89 hectares, until about two weeks ago.

“For two weeks we haven’t seen any animals in our fields,” he said. “It’s very unusual. It’s pretty much unheard of here.”

He now fears the virus has spread through the herd of deer and possibly the elk too.

“I saw my neighbour and he asked me if I had seen any elk lately, he hadn’t seen them either,” added Haack.

Prebble says he has seen at least three other deer struggling and has found two carcasses in the woods.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development website states “Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease (AHD) is an acute, infectious, usually fatal viral disease of deer species. Since September 2020, coastal black-tailed deer on several British Columbia (BC) Gulf Islands (confirmed on Galiano, Mayne, Pender, Salt Spring) and southern Vancouver Island (from Coombs to Sooke) have died from this disease.”

Anecdotal reports to the Ministry suggest at least 300 deer may have died from the virus in B.C.

The Ministry is actively tracking the spread of the disease by testing deer carcasses from areas where AHD has not previously been detected.

The Province says it is still interested in collecting more samples for ongoing surveillance and welcome reports of deer of any age with clinical signs of difficulty breathing, drooling, foaming at the mouth, and dark coloured diarrhea.

If someone thinks a deer has the disease, they can call or email Caeley Thacker, Wildlife Veterinarian with the Resource Stewardship Division, [email protected] (250) 751-3234.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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