LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Two more deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease in New Mexico, Kerry Mower announced today at the New Mexico Wildlife Federation annual meeting in Las Cruces. Mower is the wildlife disease specialist for the Department of Game and Fish.

“These two positives were from samples collected during the early January muzzleloader hunt in the Organ Mountains,” said Mower. “Seven deer were harvested and all animals were checked and tissues taken by Game and Fish personnel for CWD testing.”

All hunters were required by law to check in and out for the Organ Mountains hunt, Mower said. There were 21 permit holders who hunted out of the 35 permits issued. The boned meat, hides and cleaned, decontaminated skull plates with attached antlers were the only animal parts allowed to be taken from the area. The two hunters who killed the infected deer have been notified.

A meeting of the Animal Health Advisory Committee will convene Feb. 18 in Santa fe to discuss strategies to contain and mitigate the disease and to ensure the welfare of the public, livestock and wildlife resources of New Mexico, said Mower.

“All management response will be under the immediate direction and at the will of the Game and Fish director,” he said.

The committee includes representatives from the New Mexico Livestock Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture/APHIS, New Mexico Department of Agriculture Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the Attorney General’s office, the U.S. Army and the Department of Game and Fish.

Since spring 2002, six samples of a total of 23 deer from White Sands Missile Range have tested positive for CWD.

“Seeing a prevalence rate this high for a disease that requires 18 months to five years to manifest itself, suggests that CWD has been present at White Sands Missile Range for years, maybe decades, perhaps longer,” said Mower. “We still have no idea how CWD came to exist at the range. It is 600 miles from the epicenter of the disease in Colorado.”

No evidence exists that chronic wasting disease can be transmitted to humans by consuming meat. The Department will alert any hunter who harvests an animal if that animal tests positive for CWD.

“We will continue monitoring this disease to the best of our ability and take every action possible to protect the health of New Mexico citizens and wildlife,” said Larry Bell, director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

To prevent further contamination, Bell has declared an animal health emergency within New Mexico and is not allowing the importation of any cervids – deer or elk – at this time.

According to Brig. Gen. William Engel, commander of White Sands, the missile range has offered its full support and will work closely with the state to define the problem.

Mower said he finds the existence of the disease at White Sands Missile Range “one of the most compelling mysteries of my life.”