Should we be worried about CWD?
If you’re like me, hunting is more than just a sport. For many of us it’s a source of nutrition. I spend my hunting season chasing not only the trophy whitetail but the healthy and meaty whitetail to fill up the freezer. It allows us to be closer to nature but to also be self sustainable and not have to rely on society. Here in MS at least, CWD is a new disease that is creeping its way into our ecosystem and really makes one wonder is this something we should be scared of?
What is CWD and where did it come from?
In an article by cwd-info.org CWD is defined as “Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk, and moose. It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brain of the infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, and loss of bodily functions and death.” It is often referred to as the zombie deer disease and if you see an animal in the later stages of this disease you’ll understand why. They often lose their balance, lose lots of weight, stumble around, and drool endlessly. You can spot them when you see a deer that has an excessive thirst meaning it drinks longer than normal and usually they are not scared of humans. As far as the exact origins of this disease it is unknown. It was first recognized as a syndrome in the 60s so unfortunately there isn’t much history behind it. This disease has had footprints in many places including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, and the two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan and even though late to the party, you can now add Mississippi to the list.
How is CWD spread and how can I help?
CWD is spread in a variety of ways. The common factor in all of these methods in saliva. CWD is contained in a prion, an abnormal form of a normally harmless protein, in a very similar way to mono in humans. As the old timers would say, it’s always in the bloodstream it just has to be activated. This activation occurs in the transfer of saliva which can occur naturally in many ways but when we use artificial baits it dramatically increases the chances of them coming into contact with each others saliva. If you’re as familiar as I am with hunting over bait, you know when an animal has a known food source that is continually replenished they don’t have to roam near as far looking for food. Eventually word will get out so to speak and you will quickly have multiple animals coming to the same place potentially spreading saliva between each other.
In my home county of MS and many others the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks has implemented a supplemental feeding ban which means we can no longer use artificially placed bait such as corn, sweet potatoes, salt blocks and licks, or other artificially placed attractants to try to further prevent the rapid spread of these diseases. They have also set up many CWD test points across the state that receive deer heads from the deer killed and cleaned to take and use the heads and brains for research. We can do our part by following these guidelines and instead of hunting over bait turn to more natural resources such as planted green fields which are a more spread out option of supplementing the animals and turning in the heads from all of the deer killed we do not plan to mount so that the scientists and people much smarter than myself can do the necessary research and hopefully pinpoint the cause of this disease and find a cure. If you do encounter an animal that you think is affected by the disease you should take that animal out to keep the disease from further spreading and to also take it out of its misery but officials warn to not intake any of the meat. There are no known cases in which this disease has harmed a human but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
This disease is certainly something that we should not take lightly or play with. It is new here in Mississippi but there are many states out there who have gone through this terrible famine and survived. To answer the original question, no I don’t think CWD is something we should be scared of but it is certainly not something that we should just shrug off either.
As long as we follow the proper guidelines and do things the right way we should be able to come through this as well. Scientists at multiple labs and universities are working tirelessly to figure out the cause of this disease and then hopefully link a cure to it. Deer, elk, and moose are a very integral part of my people hunting season and more importantly their livelihood so it would behoove us all to do our part in combating this horrible disease.
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