Big Bear, Ca, June 23, 2011, 4:00pm – If you have been wondering where all the squirrels went this year, the Department of Fish and Game has some answers. The Department of Fish and Game has recently found that the Western Gray Squirrel has been becoming sick and dying due to mange, a skin disease caused by mites. While the reason for the squirrel mange outbreak is not known, DFG Wildlife Biologist Jeff Villepique explained that a high population density of squirrels and aggregation at feeders makes the spread of any disease far more likely. “Gray squirrels were at higher numbers than natural foods would support, because artificial feeding is prevalent in the mountain communities,” said Villepique. “The inevitable consequence when you combine an artificially high population with animals gathering at food sources is the eventual spread of disease.” The species of mange mites affecting the gray squirrels is specific to rodents and cannot infect humans or pet cats and dogs. Department of Fish and Game biologists have been working closely with the California Animal Health and Food Saftey Lab to find the cause of die off in the squirrel population. The Department of Fish and Game reminds residents and visitors to watch your pets, and if they scratch excessively or develop scabs, that you should seek veterinary care, as symptoms could be indicative of other forms of mange which can effect your cats and dogs. These forms of mange are readily treatable in pets.