FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks wildlife veterinarian wants the public’s help in determining the date that an exotic (for here) deer died near North Pole.
The answer will help her know whether the deer had introduced to Alaska a feared parasite called the moose winter tick.
Last week, Alaska State Troopers reported finding a dead stag mule deer that had been hit by a car near the Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus bridges over the Chena Flood Control Project, according to a Thursday news release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckman performed a necropsy on the deer, which was healthy and clearly had died from being hit by a vehicle, she said. But it’s hard to tell whether the deer died in the past few weeks or recently thawed after dying during winter. She’s hoping the deer died recently, which would mean it’s not carrying winter ticks.
Mule deer are large deer of the American West. They typically don’t live in Alaska, but the occasional stragglers from near Whitehorse, Yukon, have been seen in the Interior in the past few years, including a fawn in a North Pole driveway last year, according to the news release.
Alaska wildlife managers don’t welcome the movement of mule deer into Alaska because many deer near Whitehorse carry ticks. Biologists have expected winter ticks eventually will come to Alaska but hadn’t thought they’d come this soon. The state is home to other species of ticks.
“If we did detect it (a winter tick) here we’d have to really move rapidly because we have not come up with a plan yet on how to deal with it if it got here,” she said. “We thought we had more time.”
If Alaska did have an infestation, it could make necessary the killing of large numbers of moose to stop the spread of the ticks.
“Once (winter ticks are) introduced in a moose population in an area, the only known way to control it is to reduce the moose density, especially calves, so that there are no hosts available,” she said. “It would require an antler-less hunt or even a cull of calves and yearlings, which would not be something that would be easy to sell to the public.”
In addition to winter ticks, mule deer can carry other pathogens such as liver flukes, deer adenovirus and brain worms.
Winter ticks are particularly harmful to moose and are blamed for major moose die-offs in New Hampshire. Tiny pinhead-sized ticks latch onto moose in the fall and gorge on blood all winter until they are as large as grapes.
The deer that was found near North Pole didn’t have any grape-sized ticks. Without more information about when the deer died, Beckman said she planned to inspect the hide with a dissecting microscope to search for small ticks.
Beckman asks anyone with information about this or other mule deer in Alaska to call the Wildlife Health Reporting Information Line at 328-8354.
Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter:@FDNMoutdoors.