RAPID CITY, S.D. — The big game seasons have closed in South Dakota, and Game Fish and Parks biologists are finishing up their Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Program for 2008.

GFP tested 2,052 elk, white-tailed deer and mule deer from July 1 to January 20, 2009. Of the total samples, 27 specimens came back with a positive CWD result. Last year, a total of 2,558 tests on deer and elk revealed 19 positive results.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal brain disease of deer, elk, and moose that is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. Animals in the late stages of infection with CWD show progressive loss of weight and body condition, behavior changes, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, depression, loss of muscle control, and eventually death. This disease can not be diagnosed by observation of physical symptoms because many big game diseases affect animals in similar ways.

“We are pleased with the cooperation that we received from our hunters this year, and how smoothly our testing program worked,” said Steve Griffin, GFP Big Game Biologist. “We have been conducting this testing since 1997 and this is the second year in a row that we have seen an increase in the number of positive results in South Dakota.”

GFP tested 381 elk (9 positive CWD tests), 473 mule deer (11 positive), and 1198 white-tailed deer (7 positive).

“Most of the animals that tested positive are from areas where we have found CWD in the past, but we did have a couple of new areas that we will need to keep an eye on,” said Griffin. “We annually evaluate our testing program and determine how we will proceed in the future.”

Since the beginning of this CWD Surveillance Program, more than 19,450 wild deer and elk have been tested, with 104 cases of CWD found.