There is some great news out of Phoenix, Arizona, from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. According to a AZGFD news release, game biologists have found no instances of Chronic Wasting Disease in the deer and elk populations in the state.
The deadly disease has been detected in deer and elk in a number of other states. This includes some states that aren’t far away from Arizona, including New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. It is too early to tell if this is the result of great game management or pure luck, and it is probably a combination of the two, but it gives AZGFD a reason to be cautiously optimistic.
The department is reporting that a total of 1,342 deer and elk have been tested so far, but that all tests have come back negative for the disease. This is especially good news on several fronts. First, the animals may not exhibit any symptoms at all initially, even when they are infected. Second, deer and elk are known for sometimes-lengthy migrations. Third, Chronic Wasting Disease is contagious and transmittable both animal to animal and from contaminated browsing areas.
Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is 100% deadly to members of the deer family. In North America, the members of the deer family include several species and subspecies of deer, a few kinds of elk and moose. There is no cure and there is no preventative vaccine that can be given to individual deer to prevent them from becoming infected.
The disease attacks the nervous system of the infected animals. The later stages of the disease are quite noticeable by behavioral changes. However, the early stages of the illness don’t show signs of anything out of the ordinary. This means that the creatures can have CWD without anyone being aware of it unless tissue samples are tested.
With the potential for a widespread contagion, it is vital that steps be taken to test animals that don’t show any signs of CWD and to make sure that steps are taken to prevent the spread of CWD if it is detected.
Thankfully, AZGFD instituted a detection system early-on, as soon as reports came in of CWD in other states. The detection relies heavily upon deer and elk hunters. The hunters of the state have stepped it up, voluntarily giving department officials tissue samples of the deer and elk that have been harvested and do alert the department if animals are seen that look like they might be infected.
AZGFD acknowledges the tremendous importance of deer and elk hunters in keeping the state free from CWD. In the news release, wildlife biologist Carrington Knox is quoted as saying,
“The continued vigilance of hunters is essential for the Department’s effective surveillance of CWD in deer and elk. The CWD surveillance program is reliant on the voluntary submission of samples by hunters and samples collected by taxidermists and meat processors. This data is critical to our early detection efforts and we are very appreciative of all the effort to ensure the program is a success.”
It appears that the efforts of the hunters in the state and of AZGFD biologists are paying off. With continued dedication of both hunters and game officials, it is possible that this malady will be prevented from gaining a foothold in Arizona.
Image by MONGO