NEWTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Mexican gray wolf pup at the Binder Park Zoo near Battle Creek has died from Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
Zoo officials confirm a pup died during the first weekend of September. Test results confirming the disease came back at the end of last week.
The results from a second pup that died the next day are still pending. The second wolf pup had an existing liver condition, which might have played a role in its death.
Binder Park Zoo says the death of the animal is the first confirmed case of EEE in Calhoun County this year. State health officials confirmed the first human case of the disease in the area on Friday.
The Mexican gray wolf pups were born on June 14 as part of a breeding program to increase the numbers of the species. The parents and remainder of the litter have not shown any symptoms of the disease and are being monitored by the veterinarian staff.
The zoo released the following statement from Veterinarian Kim Thompson:
“Although EEE infection in canines is very, very rare, there have been a few cases previously reported in domestic dog puppies. All species considered highly susceptible to EEE infection at the zoo, including domestic and non-domestic equine species and ostriches, are vaccinated on a yearly basis. Zoos have a wide range of species and can be important indicators for detecting diseases in an area. All animals at Binder Park Zoo that die have a complete necropsy and any additional disease testing performed by a veterinarian to determine the cause of death. As such, it’s not uncommon for a zoo veterinarian to detect a new disease in an area. In fact, a zoo veterinarian was the first to detect West Nile Virus after it entered the United States many years ago.”
In response to the concerns about EEE, the zoo has set up five mosquito spraying stations and are providing repellent at no charge. Officials are also working with a consultant to see what other measures can be taken to protect the animals and zoo visitors.
The zoo now has fall hours, which end at 4 p.m. Therefore, people will not be inside around dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
According to the zoo, the Mexican gray wolf is extremely rare and is classified as endangered with a population of just 131 documented in the wild in 2018.
“Every animal in the Mexican Wolf population is very important. It was a huge loss and it was a sudden loss. So, the staff here was really saddened by that,” Thompson said.
Eric Pessell, the health officer with the Calhoun County Public Health Department, says they are advising people to take precautions.
In addition to the confirmed death of a person with the virus, two more possible cases are being investigated in the county.
“It’s a rare disease. We don’t see it very often and we certainly don’t see it in the numbers that we currently have,” Pessell said. “I think we now have more human cases in the state of Michigan than they’ve ever recorded.”
County health officials say they are taking the case of the wolf pup seriously.
“I’m not going to say it’s a sentinel. It’s not something that the animal is first and then the human but it just tells me that we have EEE infected mosquitoes in a greater area,” Pessell said.