While humans continue to battle COVID-19, deer have been fighting their very own pandemic.
The Chronic Wasting Disease (CDW) has been gripping the deer, elk, and moose community. It cannot be contracted by humans.
According to the CDC, in August of 2020, there were at least 24 states reporting the disease in their wilderness population. In addition, two provinces in Canada were also being affected. Part of the problem is that once CWD has become pervasive in an area, the risk can continue to impact the environment for a long time after.
CDW Continues to Spread
An elk in Grand Teton National Park tested positive last week, which caused many to push Congress for more serious research and testing. There is a possibility it can continue to impact animals in contact with deer and elk.
The CDC also reports that it is less common in free-ranging deer and elk. With captive deer, the infection rate can be as high as 79%, however.
A recent map from the United States Geological Study site shows what the current outlook for the disease is. It shows areas where the disease is free-ranging, in a captive facility, or in a captive facility but depopulated.
It continued to grow since 2018, where the area of the disease was far less.
The disease seems to be most pervasive in states like Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
While it seems to be most common in the central and southwest parts of the country, other areas are gradually detecting CDW. For example, Philadelphia is one of the very few Eastern states to notice it.
States Reporting Positive Cases in Deer
According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pennsylvania has the second-largest captive deer industry in the country with more than 750 facilities. In October, 24 different deer farms in the state reported positive cases of the disease. Out of 95,000 deer, 460 had CWD.
Deer are an important part of the environment and the fatal disease could be a real threat to their continued livelihood.
“CWD threatens one of Pennsylvania’s prized natural resources. This administration has taken aggressive steps to contain the disease through a scientific, fact-based approach. We are using new genetic testing tools to help predict which deer will contract the disease, funding research to help better understand and trace the disease and working together strategically to control its spread,” Russell Redding, state agriculture secretary said.
The disease will continue to impact the hunting community. Depending on the number of deer being affected, it will impact the number that can safely be hunted.
What Does the Future Look Like?
With some animals, researchers are seeing that the disease may take a few years before it shows symptoms. The deer will have dramatic weight loss, disorientation, excessive salivation, and other symptoms that usually will lead to death.
While deer hunters are turning in samples for researchers, it may not be enough to really get a good sense of the future of CWD.
In the past, the word could be spread with hunters on when to stop hunting and pick up hunting of animals based on environmental circumstances. Due to the pandemic, many hunters may be unaware of the problem.
Many states are still pushing to work with hunters, however difficult it may be.
“We also encouraged all of our hunters who were having bucks mounted to use one of the local taxidermists working with the state to submit CWD samples voluntarily,” Wildlife Biologist John Gruchy said, according to Pontotoc Progress.
For deer hunters, lovers of deer, or overall nature enthusiasts, the CWD could become incredibly impactful in the coming years.