‘Zombie Deer’ Discovered in Texas

by Craig Garrett

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), commonly known as zombie deer disease, has been discovered in the Texas Hill Country. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced that a deer breeding facility in Gillespie County had been infected with the disease. According to KSAT 12, a one-year-old white-tailed deer buck was found deceased. Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory received tissue samples from the animal on August 17. This is part of a required CWD surveillance program.

Dr. Andy Schwartz, TAHC State Veterinarian, explained CWD in more detail. “Response staff are diligently working to conduct epidemiological investigations,” Dr. Schwartz said. That said, the “zombie deer” may be difficult to track. “The nature of the disease makes definitive findings difficult to determine”, Dr. Schwartz explained. “The incubation period of CWD can span years creating disease detection and management challenges.”

CWD is a disease that quickly spreads and kills those affected by it. Unfortunately, the infection can stay on the landscape for years. Any “zombie deer” that contracts it will almost certainly die from the ailment. The disease manifests as a loss of weight, stumbling or tremors, lack of coordination, excessive thirst, salivation or urination, loss of appetite, grinding of teeth, misalignment of the head, and drooping ears. Officials stated that symptoms may not become noticeable until long after infection.

15 Texas counties have detected the “Zombie Deer”

As of today, 376 deer in 15 Texas counties have tested positive for CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease), according to a TPWD press release. This number includes white-tailed deer, mule deer, red deer, and elk. CWD isn’t a new phenomenon. A group of captive mule deer in Colorado was the first to have the zombie deer disease in 1967.

John Silovsky, Wildlife Division Director for TPWD, weighed in on the zombie deers. “The discovery of CWD in this breeding facility is an unfortunate situation that TPWD and Texas Animal Health Commission take very seriously,” Silovsky said.“Both agencies will respond appropriately to this matter to protect the state’s susceptible species from further disease exposure.” Throughout Texas, hunting is a booming industry that helps to support rural economies.

TPWD officials said they have taken action to secure all deer located at the facility and are planning to conduct additional CWD investigations. Breeding facilities are being cautious not to keep spreading the zombie deer disease. Several other deer breeding facilities have been notified and put under movement bans. There’s no indication that CWD can harm people.

There’s also been a recent outbreak of zombie deer in Ohio. They have a similar set of symptoms as their Ohio cousins. That said, authorities there are indicating that the cause is EHD, or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. Luckily, EHD does not appear to infect people or pets.