The tick-infested deer that were euthanized this week at Caneel Bay Resort were buried to prevent the infestation from getting into the food chain, Patrick Kidd, Caneel’s New York-based director of sales and marketing, said Friday.
“They were buried on the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Kidd said.
Caneel contracted the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to do the job.
Kidd said the euthanization procedure called for shooting them. He did not have specifics on how many deer were euthanized, but suggested it was somewhere between two and four dozen.
“It was a small local population,” he said.
APHIS Supervisor Ken Gruver did not return two phone calls Friday requesting more information. He had declined to provide specifics about the job on Thursday because he said the details would be included in a press release to be issued by Caneel’s public relations agency, Hawkins International Public Relations. The press release, issued Friday morning instead of the promised Thursday afternoon, discussed why Caneel needed to euthanize the deer and indicated the methods and equipment are selected to conduct an operation that is “safe, humane and effective.”
Caneel did not eliminate all the deer because naturalist Eleanor Gibney said she saw several every time she drove past the resort this week.
The good news is that the Virgin Islands does not have ticks that carry Lyme disease, which can cause a rash as well as heart and neurological problems in humans.
While no one knows of any cases of humans catching any disease transmitted by local ticks, St. John veterinarian Dr. Laura Palminteri said research is ongoing on the subject because there are concerns that some strains could be dangerous to humans.
“It’s prudent to use insect repellent when you’re out there hiking,” Palminteri said.
She said she made a house call to Caneel five or six months ago to try to alleviate the deer tick problem. She said she tried putting tick-killing medicine in seed pods, but after two rounds of medication, it turned out not to be a practical solution because the deer had to be hand-fed the pods to make sure they got the medication.
“It did help,” she said.
She said the deer carried the American dog tick, the only kind found on St. John. Those ticks can infect dogs. It causes thinning of the blood and can shut down bone marrow.
Palminteri said the ticks aren’t usually a problem for cats because they’re better at picking them off when they groom themselves.
Ticks of several varieties are a problem across the territory. Dr. Bethany Branford, the Agriculture Department’s veterinarian, said they’re transmitted when the ticks fill up on the blood of the host animal. They fall off into the grass, where they lay their eggs.
Branford said while certain ticks tend to live on specific animals, they can be picked up by other animals including dogs.
While St. John has an overabundance of deer because there are no natural predators for this non-native species, Gibney said the population at Caneel was very large.
“It was not a sustainable situation,” she said.
In addition to the large numbers being bad for the deer, she said they were a danger to the native flora because deer are extremely efficient at killing plants.
Gibney said while the deer made an interesting attraction for the resort’s guests, Caneel should have managed the population before it grew so large and infested with ticks.
“Nature is a balance,” she said.
Kidd said in the Friday press release that the decision to remove a select number of deer was not undertaken lightly and is environmentally appropriate.
Dana Bartlett, who owns Carolina Corral horse rides in Coral Bay, said she often sees animals infested with ticks when they arrive at her business.
“Especially if they’ve spent a lot of time in the bush. I had a horse die from it,” she said.
She said she treats them with Vaseline mixed with lamp oil and cuts off the hair around the area.