Doe, a deer—a pink-dyed deer?
Anyone who's spotted a deer or other animal sporting a hot pink hairdo lately can rest assured that their eyes weren't playing tricks on them. The deer are part of a new research project developed by Fairfax County to control tick infestations.
The county has recently set up 20 feeding stations—15 in Sully Woodlands, five in —treated with a pesticide used to kill ticks. The deer rub against a roller as they feed, that leaves a hot pink streak on their bodies. The dye allows researchers to track the deer, "the primary wildlife host" for ticks, said Vicky Monroe, Wildlife Biologist for Fairfax County. The purpose of the study is to see if the pesticide will reduce transmission of ticks to humans and to research the practicality of the feedings stations.
"The deer are the public transit system for ticks," said Monroe. "They're coming in and dropping off hundreds of ticks in your backyard and playgrounds."
Monroe picked pink dye because she needs to track the deer, and many colors can become camouflage when they fade. "I wanted something that couldn't be found in nature," she said.
The county's project comes at a time when the public is more aware of the problems associated with ticks, and tick-borne illnesses, than ever. More localities are looking for ways to combat ticks. The number of reported cases of Lyme Disease has grown significantly in recent years—but the true number may be even three times higher, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. In Fairfax County there were 283 cases of suspected Lyme Disease reported in 2010, 82 more cases than in 2009, Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity said in a statement on Monday.
This spring is expected to be especially bad, due to the unseasonably warm weather, experts warn.
"This is going to be a horrific season, especially for Lyme," Leo J. Shea III, a clinical assistant professor at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, told the WSJ.
The "pink deer" study will run until 2015, will cost about $380,000, and took years to develop. The Board of Supervisors voted to support the project in 2009.
Other animals such as squirrels and raccoons may get into the feeders, but aren't being tracked, she said. Any stray dogs or cats that stumble across a feeder shouldn't be hurt by the pesticide, either.
Monroe and the other researchers will collect the deer and perform necropsies to look for signs of illness and injury. They'll also remove the ears, where ticks tend to congregate. What a lot of people don't know is that many of the deer in Fairfax County are in fact very sick, Monroe said, even if they may look fine on the outside. She said that people should stay away from the deer and other wild animals for their own safety.
"What we want the public to know is that wildlife is wildlife—so don't touch them," Monroe said.
Monroe, who also runs the county's , obtained a special permit from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in 2010, since the feeders are not legal for commercial use in Virginia. Money for the project came from the Fairfax County pest control fund in 2011, and the feeders were set up this February. The cost of the project includes two new technicians to help Monroe with harvests every other month, and supplies for the feeder. There will also be game cameras under police surveillance set up near the feeders.