LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas’ deer herd got a clean bill of health this week. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had over 250 deer tested recently and none tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.
Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is a nervous system disease that has been observed in deer and elk in Colorado, Nebraska, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana and Oklahoma. Very little is known about the disease. It causes damage to portions of the brain of the animal and there is no cure for the always-fatal disease.
“If this disease had entered the state, our management strategy would possibly change dramatically ,” said Donny Harris, the AGFC’s chief of wildlife management, “Our goal might be to depopulate the infected herds,” he added.
Deer were tested at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens, Ga.
The AGFC last year passed a law making it illegal to import, ship, transport or carry into the state by any means any live member of the cervid family, including but not limited to white-tailed deer and elk. “Because of the inability to test live animals, CWD is quite possibly the worst thing we have seen on the wildlife front in recent times,” Harris said.
Deer and elk are not brought into Arkansas by the Game and Fish Commission, but some may be imported by citizens, including persons who operate wildlife parks and fee hunting operations. These practices are now illegal.
Although the disease doesn’t seem to affect humans or cows, an appearance in Arkansas would cost the state millions of dollars that would be focused on CWD research, surveillance and management. The Center for Disease Control has conducted a study of CWD and human risk and has stated: “The risk of infection with the CWD agent among hunters is extremely small, if it exists at all.”
According to Harris, the effort to eliminate the disease in Wisconsin costs the state around $20,000 a day and the costs are still growing. “There are also associated costs not figured in,” Harris explained. “Deer hunting contributes millions of dollars to the state and if you eliminate herds, then people don’t hunt. You lose the money hunters would spend on gas and groceries, besides costs directly associated with hunting,” he added.
Animals affected with the disease reveal progressive loss of body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, depression and eventually death. Although the exact method of transmission is unknown, it is known that CWD is transmitted from animal to animal. An interagency task force is currently drafting a management plan designed to guide the surveillance, testing and response should the disease be detected.
AGFC officials said although CWD is not known to be present anywhere in Arkansas, persons who find deer or elk dead from no apparent cause, like trauma, should immediately call the nearest AGFC office or personnel to report it. Reports can be made to the AGFC hotline, 1-800-482-9262.