Check Stations Check for Chronic Wasting Disease

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Hunters will play an important part in the chronic wasting disease (CWD) surveillance program this year at Idaho's Fish and Game check stations.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game personnel will be collecting samples and are encouraging successful hunters to cooperate with their requests. It is part of general surveillance program to monitor Idaho's big game herds for the disease.

"We have a general surveillance program that we do at check stations on hunter kills," Fish and Game Wildlife Veterinarian Phil Mamer said. "And then a targeted surveillance program where we look at deer and elk showing the symptoms of chronic wasting disease and take samples from them." These same symptoms can occur when deer and elk are hit by a car and their heads and jaws are injured, so testing is important.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game began monitoring deer and elk for CWD in 1997. To date, all samples have been negative. However, the neighboring states of Utah and Wyoming do have the disease. Also, there are large elk feed grounds in Wyoming near the Idaho border. Consequently, there's the possibility that chronic wasting disease may move its way from central to western Wyoming and its feed grounds and into eastern Idaho. As a result, Fish and Game has instigated a more intensive sampling program in these high-risk areas.

"Hopefully we never find it but, if we do, we want to find it just after it gets here and be able to take action before it's spread," Mamer said. "And that includes both wildlife management and veterinary-type actions."

Chronic wasting disease was first recognized in mule deer at a research facility in Colorado in 1967. It was first identified in free ranging deer in 1981. Since then it has been documented in wildlife in Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Illinois, Wisconsin, New Mexico and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Deer and elk that are affected by CWD generally appear thin for no reason, tend to drool, drink excessive amounts of water and may appear blind or uncoordinated. Animals showing these signs should be reported to a local conservation officer, Fish and Game regional office or the Wildlife Health Laboratory at 208-454-7638.

"If you kill a sick deer or elk you should notify a conservation officer," Mamer said. "That way it can be sampled for chronic wasting disease or have a necropsy done to see why it was in poor condition and then probably apply for another tag so you can go out and harvest a healthy animal."

According to the World Health Organization there is currently no evidence that CWD in deer and elk is transmitted to humans.