Saskatchewan has its fourth confirmed case of chronic wasting disease in the wild deer population, but this one is different from the previous three.
“It showed up in an area outside of what we thought was the containment area,” said Kevin Callele, manager of resource allocation with Saskatchewan Environment’s fish and wildlife branch.
Until now the positive cases had been found in the Manito Sandhills area near Lloydminster. The latest positive sample was discovered in a two-year-old mule deer buck shot this fall near Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park, north of Swift Current. That is about 450 kilometres southeast of the previous infection area.
“This is a bit of a surprise to us — not that there is another animal, but the location certainly is the biggest surprise,” Callele said.
The government will be launching a “herd reduction and surveillance” program similar to what is employed in the Lloydminster area.
“We do an intensive reduction of the deer herd in a six-kilometre radius around the infected area,” he said.
They will be taking a large number of brain samples from wild animals that are harvested by hunters around Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park.
Callele said there is significant public concern about what effect the disease could have on the province’s big game industry, exotic livestock industry and on people who eat wild meat. But science indicates that CWD poses no known risk to humans or domestic livestock.
The disease is not limited to wild animals. CWD has also been found in the province’s game-farmed elk herds. But there is quite a difference between the two populations.
“You probably have a greater chance of containing the spread of chronic wasting disease in game-farmed animals than you do in the wild,” Callele said.
“The wild herd is considerably larger and more transient.”
Over the past four years Saskatchewan Environment has tested 5,500 samples from across the province and Callele expects hunters to provide another 3,000-4,000 cervid heads to be analyzed this winter.
Hunting season has started and heads should be rolling in until the end of December. Callele encourages hunters to keep the heads frozen until they drop them off at check stations or department offices.
He hopes to have the fall samples analyzed by the end of January or early February. There have been no positive tests on wild elk or wild white-tailed deer populations.