Hunters and landowners in several states realize that the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is all too real. Twelve states, including Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin in the east, and two Canadian provinces have detected CWD (a fatal neurological disease) in captive and wild cervids (deer and elk). While no evidence currently exists to indicate that CWD has infected Georgia’s quality deer herd, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) initiated a proactive five-year survey during the 2002-2003 deer hunting season in an ongoing effort to monitor the white-tailed deer herd for CWD.

“Even though WRD does not expect to find animals testing positive for CWD, Georgians will benefit from knowing that our deer are being monitored,” says WRD Chief of Game Management Todd Holbrook. “If CWD is detected during the course of the five-year survey, Georgia will benefit by immediately implementing a disease control program.”

CWD is caused by a misshaped protein, called a prion. Prions change healthy proteins into abnormal proteins, additionally affecting other healthy proteins. Infected deer become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose control of bodily functions and die. It is believed that the disease may be spread through animal-to-animal contact, either through saliva, mucus or contact with feces from an infected animal. CWD has a long incubation period – perhaps exceeding five years – making the greatest risk of introduction through the movement of infected live animals. Georgia has been proactive in taking steps to keep CWD and other diseases out of the state, including passing regulations that makes the importation of deer illegal and by maintaining the current prohibition on baiting of deer for hunting. Baiting and feeding can facilitate the spread of CWD and other diseases by unnaturally concentrating sick deer with healthy deer.

During the first year of the study, sampling sites included Dawson, Harris, Macon, Marion, Oconee and Toombs Counties. These sites were selected based on the knowledge that farmed, exotic deer may have been purchased and imported into these counties (prior to the ban on importation). Importation and release of native white-tailed deer continues to remain illegal. Collections came from potentially exposed hunter-harvested whitetail deer. A total of 336 samples were collected and tested under the testing program and all results indicate non-detection of CWD. Over 100 deer, from outside the targeted counties were tested under standard health monitoring and results were non-detect for CWD.

Georgia citizens and others can help proactively protect our quality deer herd against CWD and other diseases by reporting the illegal importation of deer or elk and illegal baiting by calling (800) 241-4113. In addition, hunters are encouraged to avoid practices that result in high concentrations of deer over small areas including supplemental feeding of deer and lack of adequate doe harvest. These practices increase disease risk by unnaturally concentrating sick deer with healthy deer.

For more information on CWD and the five-year study, visit the WRD website at www.gohuntgeorgia.com or call (770) 761-3044.