SANTA FE – Two elk killed in the southern Sacramento Mountains of southeast New Mexico have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), the Department of Game and Fish announced. The animals were the first elk in New Mexico to test positive for CWD since the disease was first discovered in mule deer in 2002.

Both CWD-afflicted elk were killed in an area 10 to 15 miles southeast of Cloudcroft in Game Management Unit 34, the same general area where the state’s most recent case of CWD was detected in a mule deer. One of the elk – a mature male — was taken Oct. 3 by a hunter and showed no symptoms of the disease. The other elk – a yearling female — was in very poor condition and unable to stand when a Department of Game and Fish conservation officer found it Oct. 1. Testing and verification of the samples required about two months. Future testing is expected to occur more quickly as the Department of Game and Fish and the Veterinary Diagnostic Services in the New Mexico Department of Agriculture further implement recently achieved in-state CWD testing capabilities.

“The range in which the disease is found appears to be expanding, so finding it in more animals in that area is not surprising,” said Kerry Mower, the Department’s lead wildlife disease biologist. “But it is disappointing to find our first cases of CWD in free-ranging elk.”

Brain stem samples from the two elk were among more than 100 taken from deer and elk in Unit 34 this year and sent to the Veterinary Diagnostic Services Laboratory in Albuquerque. The Albuquerque laboratory’s “presumptive positive” samples from the two elk were confirmed as CWD-positive by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

“We will continue our efforts to monitor the disease by actively testing animals in Units 34 and 19,” Mower said. “We also encourage all hunters statewide to submit their animals for testing.” The Department personally informs hunters if the tests are positive. Hunters will be able to see the complete list of test results as they become available on the Department Web site, www.wildlife.state.nm.us.

This season, hunters who kill animals in a “Control Area” of Unit 34 are required to submit their animals for testing and observe special regulations affecting which body parts of a deer or elk can be removed from the unit. Hunting seasons continue in that area into January.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological illness that afflicts deer, elk and moose. There is no evidence of CWD being transmitted to humans or livestock. The disease causes animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior and lose control of bodily functions. To date, it has been found in captive and wild deer, elk and moose in eight states and two Canadian provinces.

The origin of CWD in New Mexico is unknown. It has been found in 12 wild deer and two wild elk since 2002, when the disease was first discovered east of Las Cruces. All of the CWD-positive deer and elk in New Mexico were from the southern Sacramento Mountains southeast of Cloudcroft and areas surrounding the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces.

For more information about CWD in New Mexico, including special regulations and how hunters can assist in research and prevention, visit the Department Web site at www.wildlife.state.nm.us . More information about CWD also can be found on the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance site at www.cwd-info.org or on the Colorado Division of Wildlife site at wildlife.state.co.us.