The deer population is in danger. Several states have already confirmed chronic wasting disease (CWD), a usually fatal neurological condition that is also found in certain groups of elk and moose.
Arkansas wildlife authorities have detected CWD among 56 deer while Texas reported two after tests on the captive deer returned positive. The disease has also been found in other states such as Virginia, Colorado, and Michigan.
With the increasing CWD incidents, how does it impact wildlife regulations and hunting practices across the country?
What Is CWD?
CWD is a transmissible disease that causes neurological symptoms. The deer may lose their body functions cause them to stagger or walk with poor posture. The condition could also lead to a change in behavior, such as loss of fear when around humans or when separated from the rest of the herd. In the end, the deer will die.
The disease was first discovered during the 1960s in Colorado and has been present in more than 20 states and two provinces in Canada.
CWD can spread among the deer population, but cannot cross to humans. The cause of the disease, which is an infectious protein called prion, may be transmitted through deer stool and urine. Prions may also be contracted by other deer from the saliva on the ground or if it eats a plant with the saliva of an infected deer.
Even though infected deer do not show any symptoms, it can already transmit the disease. Prions can stay in the environment for many years.
What Is The Effect Of CWD?
One of the biggest negative effects of CWD is the possible significant decrease of deer population since the disease can affect both does and bucks, although the disease is more frequently seen among the latter.
The reduction in their population can be a disadvantage for states that rely on hunting to enhance their economy and for people who eat deer meat. It may also lead to ecological imbalance as deer can be prey for predators like bobcats. Most of all, it can threaten the existence of certain deer species.
What Can Be Done?
CWD is very hard to diagnose as there's no test that can be conducted on live animals and before they show symptoms. The only way to detect the condition is when the brainstem is removed and analyzed in a laboratory.
The optimal solution is to reduce the spread of the disease, which can be done in many ways.
"The best way to help prevent its spread is to not transport any parts of deer or elk taken in from areas where Arkansas's elk herd is found to other parts of the state," said Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.
Hunters may concentrate on deer, but should be advised to have the animals tested first before bringing it elsewhere. States may also impose containment zones and guidelines for transport.
Some states have banned baiting or feeding of deer, particularly in areas where CWD have been confirmed, as it may encourage both infected and non-infected deer to congregate. The practice could also attract other deer because urine can also contain prions.
"[A]llowing USDA Wildlife Services sharpshooters access to their property to collect samples," said Lydia Lohrer, outdoors writer for the Detroit Free Press, about how those who are running deer farms can contribute to control and reduction of CWD.