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13 June 2020

Sarcoptic mange

Today’s entry will focus on the mountain’s fauna and a problem they face: sarcoptic mange. This disease is the most serious among chamois and ibex and is caused by a small mite invisible to the naked eye. It started spreading in the Dolomites in 1949 and it grew exponentially in the 70s and 90s. For those chamois and ibex that have never been hit by the sarcoptic mange, the mortality rate can be as high as 95%. After a couple of years, the disease abates, and the survivors repopulate. It is a hard life up here, among the rocks and cliffs.

Once the disease becomes endemic, it can come back in cycles of 7-15 years, but in this case the mortality rate is a lot lower (10-15%). This vexing mite targets our mountain fauna: the female mites burrow in the animals’ skin and then lay their eggs and release toxic substances as they burrow. The affected animals rub themselves up against trees and rocks, lose their fur on their neck and muzzle and, as the disease progresses, lose their appetite and grow weaker until they die. The disease does not affect people, so someone takes care of these animals with patience, commitment, and scientific rigour. The forest rangers of the entire Dolomites work hard and oversee the animals, flagging new cases and the evolution of the disease within protected areas. Giulan.