Findings about ticks brought transition in philosophy
Willy Burgdorfer, 89, who sparked a transition of wildlife management focus from propagating deer to be hunted to culling deer as a disease vector, died from complications of Parkinson’s Disease on November 17, 2014 in Hamilton, Montana.
Burgdorfer had no intention of promoting deer culling. A medical entomologist, Burgdorfer had earned his undergraduate degree in zoology, but was not particularly interested in deer, wildlife management, or hunting.
The cofounder of a youth soccer league, his favorite sport was European rules football. Ticks were his consuming interest.
Eulogized Program for Monitoring Emerging Disease (ProMED) viral diseases moderator Tom Yuill, “Willy Burgdorfer will long be recognized for his having discovered the Lyme disease spirochete named after him, Borellia bergdorferi.”
Born in Basel, Switzerland, Burgdorfer earned his zoology degree and a doctorate in parasitology and bacteriology from the University of Basel and the Swiss Tropical Institute, respectively.
Burgdorfer relocated to Hamilton, Montana, in 1951 on a U.S. Public Health Service fellowship to study the wood ticks that in 1906 had been identified as the transmission vector for Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
“In the early 1980s,” recalled New York Times obituarist William Yardley, “Burgdorfer was analyzing deer ticks from Long Island that were suspected to have caused spotted fever when he stumbled on something unexpected under his microscope: spirochetes, disease-causing bacteria shaped like corkscrews.”
Burgdorfer “had not been working on Lyme disease,” Yardley continued, “but he had spoken with the doctor who helped discover it, Allen Steere of Yale University. After Burgdorfer saw the spirochetes in the Long Island ticks, he quickly realized that the bacteria might also be in the deer ticks believed to be playing a role in Lyme disease in Connecticut and elsewhere, including Long Island. Deer ticks had not been known to carry spirochetes, but more testing proved him right. In 1982, he and several colleagues published the findings in the journal Science.”
Afflicting about 300,000 Americans per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Lyme disease was named for Old Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first identified in 1975.
“Deer ticks” afflict rodents
Deer ticks are somewhat misnamed, in that they primarily infest rodents. Deer, however, are the carriers believed to most often translocate deer ticks from place to place.
Therefore, explained ProMed wildlife moderator Pablo M. Beldomenico in February 2014, “More deer represent more opportunities for female ticks to engorge and lay hundreds of eggs that will produce larvae that primarily feed on rodents, some of whom will be infected.”
Further, as Deerland author Al Cambronne points out, “The U.S. now has over 30 million deer, a hundred times more than a century ago,” largely as result of almost a century of enforcement of “buck laws,” which encourage hunters to shoot bucks but spare does, so that they will bear more fawns.
From “buck laws” to culling
The abundance of deer, coupled with the widespread belief that deer are to blame for Lyme disease, has contributed to the partial reform of “buck laws” in many states, to encourage doe hunting in order to stabilize the deer population; to increased promotion of bowhunting from tree stands in suburban areas, as a purportedly safer and more societally acceptable way to kill deer in back yards and parks than traditional deer-stalking with rifles; and to the emergence of deer culling as a fast-growing branch of the nuisance wildlife control industry.
Incorporated as a nonprofit organization, the deer culling firm White Buffalo Inc., of Moodus, Connecticut, reports annual revenues ranging from circa $400,000 to $785,000. White Buffalo is believed to be the leader in the field, but since for-profit deer culling companies are not required to publish financial data, it is not clear whether White Buffalo has major rivals.
But while deer ticks are the major vectors for Lyme disease in the eastern U.S., “Other ticks and biting insects such as mosquitoes, deer flies, and horse flies have been shown to carry the Lyme disease bacterium,” ProMed infectious diseases moderator Tam Garland posted in February 2014.
“The relationship between deer and the disease is complex. Deer show no symptoms of the disease. Deer may carry small numbers of the spirochete that causes Lyme disease, but they are dead-end hosts for the bacterium. Deer cannot infect other animals directly,” Garland continued, “and no deer hunter has acquired the disease from dressing out a deer. Infected ticks that drop from deer present little risk to humans or other animals, since the ticks are now at the end of their life cycle and will not feed again.
“These ticks are just as capable of being on dogs, or cats, or any human. These ticks are very adaptable to a variety of hosts. Culling deer does not prevent the tick from adapting to dogs, cats, people, horses, or any other hosts,” Garland finished. “With mosquitoes, deer flies, and horse flies more than capable of carrying the bacterium, culling deer may not solve the Lyme disease problem.”
(See also Deerland: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance & the Essence of Wilderness, by Al Cambronne.)
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Thank you for your insightful articles on the subject of hunting. I live in a heavily-hunted area, and after meat-eating it is the most visible form of animal exploitation. Most animal advocacy societies are based in the cities, so sport hunting isn’t even on their radar. Even many animal rights/welfare people and veg*ns brush aside concerns about hunting, because they’ve never had an up-close look at what hunting culture really is.
Jamaka Petzak says
As always, it is horrifying to me how misinformation perpetuates suffering and killing of the innocent.
Alfredo Kuba says
Hunters are animals terrorists! and hunting is an act against nature! Terrorizing, persecuting and murdering in cold blood innocent creatures is callous and cowardly. Hunters have been responsible for the mass murders of predators like wolves, coyotes, bears, etc, which keep a natural balance in nature between predator and pray. Humans are neither and every time humans murder animals, they alter the natural order of species and nature.
The most despicable form of life is that of (hunters), callous, cowards armed to the teeth with weapons of war, out to trespass and invade the homes and habitats of creatures only to murder them. Leaving behind a trail of families turn apart, orphaned wildlife left to fend for themselves and often to suffer and die.
Tony Solesky says
I have been hunting most of my life. I think this is a fantastic article.. Personally, I believe man is a part of nature and not separate from it. Like many people in cities that are not aware of the hunting culture, equally they are not aware of wild Life, habitat issues and that left alone to death from natural causes mother nature keeps a balance which is equally cruel and gruesome.For those that find their way into the wilderness to hunt, it is impossible for them to not observe predatory behaviors exacted upon each other- of animal upon animal, death do to starvation and exposure. Absent man it is not a dogs life out there. Regardless of what side of the issue you are on, this reality is important to also know.
Regarding the above post:
The issue here is that hunting doesn’t erase other hazards to wildlife the natural world dishes out, such as predation, starvation, or harsh weather. Nor does it get rid of human-created problems such as climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and collisions with vehicles. Rather, hunting and trapping simply add to the hazards animals face in nature and ups the chances that they will suffer.
Making this argument is like saying that randomly firing into a large crowd is ethical, because, after all, look at all of the cruel things nature dishes out to us–cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc.