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December 3, 2008

Mange, distemper affecting local foxes, raccoons and coyotes

Mange, distemper affecting fox, raccoons and coyotes

NEWBURYPORT — If you've noticed Newburyport's Animal Control van out and about more often this year, it's not your imagination.

According to Animal Control Officer Becky Taylor, widespread diseases are sweeping through the city's wild animal population this fall, resulting in at least one concerned phone call to her office a day and usually one animal per day that's determined too sick to save.

Compared to a complete lack of sick animals last year, the skunk, raccoon and coyote populations are all battling contagious diseases right now, and she can't keep up with the sheer number of them, Taylor said.

"Mange is going through the coyotes and foxes," Taylor said. "I've got three or four coyotes and foxes that have barely any fur left."

Distemper is decimating the skunk population, Taylor said. She's tallied 60 since June that she's been forced to put down due to the disease. Add to that a nasty parvovirus attacking the raccoon population, and Taylor's running out of options.

"It's hard to watch," Taylor said. "Last year at this time I was not treating any animals. This year, I shoot an animal every day. I'm running out of bullets."

Parker River Wildlife Refuge biologist Frank Drauszewski has also noticed some problems in the area wildlife population — specifically the number of foxes he's seen on Plum Island that all seem to be afflicted with mange, a condition caused by mites burrowing under the skin of animals. If left untreated, it can bring on painful suffering and ultimately the death of the animal.

"I can't tell you why," Drauszewski said. "But we have noticed that a lot of the fox in the area have mange. I've been here 16 years, and I really haven't seen this in the past to the extent that I've seen it this year."

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