KENNETH CITY — Evidence appears to be mounting that the series of recent Muscovy deaths were caused by a virus rather than poison, as some duck lovers feared.
An official from the SPCA has told Kenneth City leaders the deaths are almost certainly the result of duck viral enteritis, also known as DVE or duck plague. Ducks are not only dying in Kenneth City, but also at a pond in Pinellas Park. And geese, which can also get DVE, are dying in Largo. That would indicate a virus is the culprit.
Although officials seemed to be closer to figuring out why the Muscovies are dying, the emotions generated by the duck dispute apparently sparked some vandalism against two duck defenders early last week.
Maureen Lyons, who has been an outspoken duck advocate, woke up Tuesday to find feces spread across her two cars and a utility trailer. Kali Gillespie, who has supported the rights of duck lovers but is better known for erecting a warning light on her property to stop speeders, found her flashing light and camera had been knocked off their pole.
Lyons described the situation this way in an e-mail to friends:
"Seems someone is sporting a bad attitude. The dogs went crazy about 11:30 p.m. Monday night, and of course I told them to be quiet. Well we woke up Tuesday to the smell of poop!! Yes, my dear friends, it has come to this: Somebody made a slurry of duck poop and water and flung it all over our cars. And you thought Kenneth City was a peaceful quiet community."
Kenneth City police Chief Douglas Pasley said, "It's disgusting. It's just disgusting."
Pasley said officers are visiting Lyons' neighbors to ask if they saw anything. The police report notes that patrols have been tightened near Lyons' home.
Gillespie could not be reached for comment, but a police report says that the cover to the flashing light and camera were on the ground when she woke up Tuesday.
"There was no damage to the cover and the light was still functional," the report says. "There was a slight dent to the outer cover of the decoy camera which was also still usable."
Pasley said, "It was obvious someone walked up there with a crowbar or something of that nature and hit it. ... It's so odd that it was the same night."
Ducks became a big issue in Kenneth City last year when Mayor Muriel Whitman and others became tired of the mess they left behind while foraging for food from residents who gave them handouts. The council moved to ban the feeding of wild animals on private property. It was already against the rules for people to feed wild animals on public property.
Lyons and her husband, Paul, spearheaded the drive to oppose the ordinance. Gillespie, who had already become well known for her flashing light, spoke against the duck ordinance.
The council eventually passed an ordinance that allowed the feeding of ducks on private property as long as no nuisance was created. The situation seemed to calm down until last month, when ducks began dying.
Town officials called in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which autopsied two ducks and said the birds likely had DVE, which is highly contagious to ducks, swans and geese. But the wildlife commission also sent tissue samples to a lab in Atlanta for further tests.
Lyons and other duck lovers were unsure of the diagnosis, in part because of a rumor that someone had rat poison in a yard near where the first dead ducks were found. Lyons took one of the carcasses to a lab in Orlando, which gave four possible causes including poison and DVE. The lab also sent off samples to test for poison.
Neither lab had returned results as of Friday.
But Lyons informed town officials of the Orlando lab's conclusions and copied it to Tampa animal rights lawyer Jennifer Dietz. Dietz took the ducks as clients and said early last week that she is awaiting results of the necropsy before deciding whether to file suit.