White-tailed deer populations can be impacted by a variety of deer diseases, most of which affect localized populations. Chronic wasting disease (CWD), however, has implications that can be more widespread. CWD is a fatal disease of North American elk and deer, including both white-tailed deer and mule deer. The recent discovery of CWD in breeder deer in Missouri reiterates the need for continuance in monitoring whitetails and taking action when questionable deer are discovered in Texas captive deer breeding pens.
The whitetail deer that tested positive for CWD was a captive white-tailed deer inspected as part of Missouri’s CWD disease surveillance and testing program. Preliminary CWD tests were conducted by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and a “tested positive” result was disclosed last week. That one positive test meant Missouri had to add its name to the long list of CWD-positive states. Will it happen to Texas too?
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has investigated several deer smuggling cases involving whitetails brought into Texas from several states where CWD has been confirmed through testing, including Missouri. “This is why we banned importation of deer from out of state and why we continue to monitor for illegal activity,” said Carter Smith, Executive Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In February 2010 a case of CWD was confirmed in Linn County, Missouri, on a captive hunting preserve operated by the same entity, Heartland Wildlife Ranches, LLC. The Linn County facility was depopulated and no further CWD infection was identified at that facility. The current case was identified through increased surveillance required by the deer disease management plan implemented from the previous CWD incident.
Since TPWD implemented a CWD surveillance initiative 10 years ago, more than 35,000 whitetail deer have been tested in Texas. But to date, all CWD test in Texas have come back “not detected.” Whitetail deer important both socially and economically to the people of Texas. Just because CWD has yet to be found does not mean it’s time to quit monitoring.
“The absence of any disease findings is by no means a reason to stop CWD testing whitetail deer in Texas,” Smith said. “The best measures we can take are proactive ones, and our goal is to keep CWD out of the state at all costs.”
There is no indication that CWD in deer can lead to disease in native livestock or people. Wildlife officials regard prevention as the primary and most effective tool to combat CWD. Once established in a wild whitetail population, deer diseases are extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to eradicate. Many believe it’s only a matter of time before CWD makes its way into Texas, one way or another. The state will begin CWD testing of elk in Texas starting on January 1, 2012.
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