Headless Deer on the Side of the Road Are Not Cause for Alarm, Says Michigan DNR

by Amy Myers

It might seem gruesome, but we assure you, it’s for a good cause. Michigan residents have reported spottings of headless deer carcasses on the side of state roads, but as it turns out, this is a part of the DNR’s testing for chronic wasting disease (CWD), a condition that threatens deer populations across the country. Residents have seen these headless remains in various Michigan cities, including in Vicksburg and Three Rivers.

From New York to Colorado and many states in between, wildlife officials have been keeping a close eye on the condition of their whitetail populations as CWD continues to spread at alarming rates. CWD is a progressive, fatal disease that attacks the nervous system of a deer. It causes lesions in the brain as well as emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death, according to the Michigan DNR.

State DNR Keeps Close Eye on Spread of Fatal Disease

In order to track the spread of the disease, officials have begun to remove the heads of deceased deer that exhibit signs of CWD. Telltale signs in live deer include dramatic weight loss, lack of coordination, drooling, excessive thirst, and even lack of fear of people.

To the untrained eye, this might look similar to rabies, but CWD is not transmittable to other species. In fact, the disease only affects deer, elk, and moose. The disease spreads through contact with contaminated bodily fluids. Additionally, CWD can also travel through contaminated food and water sources.

“CWD has, unfortunately, become more prevalent in recent years,” explained North Dakota Game and Fish Department outreach biologist Doug Leier. “In Wisconsin, CWD infects about 25-30% of the deer in its core management zone. In other areas, percentages of infected animals range from 0% to 30% in deer and wild elk. The number of animals diagnosed with CWD has steadily increased in recent years. It has also been found in numerous new locations where the disease was not previously detected.”

With how easily the disease can spread, it’s no wonder the Michigan DNR is keeping a close eye on its deer populations. So far, Sgt. Carter Woodwyk, a DNR conservation officer in Allegan County reported to WWMT-3 that there are no known CWD cases in Allegan or Kalamazoo counties. Last August, the state reported that two deer from Mecosta and Montcalm counties tested positive for CWD.

Headless Deer in Michigan May Also Be from Salvage Permits

While the state is studying the brains of deceased deer, Michigan’s DNR stated that there may be another reason for the headless carcasses. The state also allows for roadkill salvage permits, which allows carriers to harvest whichever parts of allotted animals that they desire, so long as the permit is active.

As a result, a salvager might have removed the head of an antlered deer that died from the impact of a vehicle.

Whether used for DNR studies or for salvaging, one thing is for sure. There’s no reason to panic if you find a headless deer on the side of the road.