Mange Is Spreading in Virginia’s Black Bear Population
According to information from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, mange in black bears in Virginia is increasing in frequency. Mange has now been confirmed in 14 counties. One sighting was reported in Highland County in 2021 and in Augusta County there were several captures in 2020 and sightings in 2021.
Mange is a highly contagious skin disease, caused by a mite, which affects many wild and domestic mammals. Mites can transfer to a new host when an unaffected animal comes into direct physical contact with an infested host. In addition, mites that fall off an infested host can persist in the environment and may infect a new animal that enters a site contaminated with mange mites. Because bears are relatively solitary, the biggest risk for environmental transmission likely occurs under conditions where they congregate, either naturally in dens or unnaturally at garbage cans, bait piles or bird feeders.
Signs of mange in bears include intense itching, mild to severe hair loss and thickened and dry skin covered by scabs or tan crusts, which is often around the face and ears. Severely affected bears are typically emaciated, lethargic, and are often found wandering, apparently unaware of their surroundings. Although mange can be a cause of mortality in Virginia black bears, there is currently no clear evidence that the disease is limiting bear populations in Virginia.
Bears are resilient animals and some do survive infestations of mange. For many bears that are still in acceptable body condition and behaving normally, DWR does not recommend humane dispatch. They are monitored and are only humanely dispatched if they become severely affected. At this time, there is no known, effective, long-acting treatment for mange in wild black bear populations.
If a hunter harvests a bear with signs of mange during an open bear season (regardless of condition/degree of infestation), they must utilize their bear tag and report the bear at the time of harvest, because this information remains a vital element of DWR’s bear management program. The harvested bear should also be reported to email@example.com with the photo and conformation number from reporting the harvest. Handling of a mange-infested bear should be minimized to avoid unnecessary exposure.
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources asks anyone who sees a bear showing signs of mange to take photos, note your exact location and submit this information to the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-855-571-9003.
For more detailed information, visit the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Black Bear webpage