While folks in the lowlands can complain about the ruthless hunger and tenacity of squirrels to get into bird feeders, up in the San Bernardino Mountains, a different story is unfolding.
This year, residents have been surprised by the lack of western gray squirrels, even reporting sick and dying animals to Fish and Game authorities. Recently, researchers announced that an outbreak of mange is to blame. Caused by mites, this skin disease can sicken and kill squirrels; but it’s a specific type of mange (Notoedres centrifera) one that affects only rodents – it doesn’t affect humans, domesticated dogs or cats.
Mange is a close-contact disease. According to the California Department of Fish and Game:
“Gray squirrels were at higher numbers than natural foods would support, because artificial feeding is prevalent in the mountain communities,” said [wildlife biologist Jeff] Villepique. “The inevitable consequence when you combine an artificially high population with animals gathering at food sources is the eventual spread of disease.”
A coalition of groups are working to find the cause and cure: DFG biologists, California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab in San Bernardino, and UC Davis veterinary researchers.
In past years, West Nile Virus (WNV) has been found in these mountain populations, but so far no squirrel has been detected with the virus.
DFG also stress:
If your pet scratches excessively or develops scabs, you should seek veterinary care, as symptoms could be indicative of one of the other forms of mange, which are readily treatable in pets. Please do not feed squirrels because of the potential for spreading disease.
Find a dead bird or squirrel? Call (877) 968-2473 (877-WNV-BIRD) or submit a report at www.westnile.ca.gov/report_wnv.php.