There are an estimated 18,000 black bears roaming around Virginia, and at this time of year there are lots of mothers and cubs.
Most are healthy, but wildlife watchers report a growing number have mange.
Mange is a condition caused by a microscopic mite found in the environment. It afflicts many mammals, causing their hair to fall out and their skin to thicken. As their bodies fight the disease, metabolism increases, and the animals lose weight according to Peach Van Wick, a research fellow at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. “The bears become really skinny and severely affected bears don’t even look like bears. They’re completely hairless and their skin gets really thick and crusty and they can actually die from it,” Van Wick says.
Veterinarian Van Wick says the disease can be cured with medication. “Historically the treatment of mange has been a dose of the drug ivermectic, but you have to give it one dose two weeks apart. That’s fine for a cat or dog, but a free ranging animal – you can’t re-capture them two weeks apart.”
So she’s doing a clinical trial at the Wildlife Center – giving a single dose of a different drug in food. If it works, Van Wick says the treatment could be given statewide by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
If you see a sick bear, that agency asks you to call so the animal can be trapped and treated.