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Virus may have caused mysterious foot disease in Chile’s rare huemul deer

24 / 04 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

Between 2005 and 2010, 24 huemul deer in Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins National Park developed a mysterious foot disease. Their hooves swelled, they limped and appeared to be in pain. In some cases, the deer became too incapacitated to move and eventually died. Researchers are now a step closer to finding out what may have caused this outbreak: it could have been a type of pox virus, they report in a new study published in PLOS ONE. Arriving at this likely disease agent has taken nearly a decade. This is partly because Bernardo O’Higgins National Park (BONP), Chile’s largest protected area, is hard to get to and monitor. It’s located in a remote part of the country, one broken up by a network of fjords and inlets, and includes numerous glaciers and part of the southern Patagonian continental ice cap that runs between Chile and Argentina. Accessible only by a boat ride of several days, the park’s remote location has protective value: Bernardo O’Higgins remains one of the last strongholds for the endangered huemul, or South Andean, deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus) in the world. But the isolation of the park also makes conservation difficult. Huemul deer are an endangered species. Image by Alejandro Vila/Wildlife Conservation Society. Park rangers detected the first case of an infected deer there in 2005. One of the adult females they had been regularly monitoring was showing signs of foot lesions and swelling that caused her to limp painfully. Four days after they first spotted the problem, the…

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