Elk and deer seasons are underway or just around the corner in Arkansas. Youth, archery, muzzleloader and modern gun seasons give the state’s diverse lineup of hunters a number of opportunities to bag their chosen game. However, there is a threat to wildlife that should unite all deer hunters.
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disorder. It has been detected in deer and elk in Arkansas and is being closely monitored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s biologists. It is caused by misshapen proteins known as prions infecting the tissues of the animals — especially the brain, spinal cord and lymph nodes — in a slow progressing disease similar to scrapie in sheep and goats or “mad cow disease” in cattle.
Late in CWD’s progression, animals will appear thin and weak, displaying abnormal behavior like unusual posture and lowered head. They will experience excessive thirst and drooling. Death follows shortly thereafter.
As of early January, 369 CWD cases had been detected in Arkansas, 355 in deer and 14 in elk. The highest concentration of the disease was found in Newton County, where 242 deer and nine elk were identified as infected.
CWD was first detected in Arkansas in February 2016 from an elk that was harvested in late 2015 in Newton County. The disease was found in a sick white-tailed deer in Newton County in February 2016.
Since these first cases, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has sampled and tested more than 11,000 deer and elk from around Arkansas. Additional CWD positives were found in Benton, Boone, Carroll, Madison, Marion, Pope, Searcy, Sebastian and Washington counties.
The AGFC continues its statewide surveillance activities and encourages Arkansans to report all sick deer and elk at 800-482-9262.
There is no current evidence of CWD transmission to humans, pets or livestock under natural conditions, but feeding domestic animals meat from diseased wildlife is not recommended.
Research suggests the CWD prion is passed from infected to healthy deer or elk through contact with feces, urine or saliva; contact with CWD-infected carcasses or with contaminated soil. Practices that unnecessarily congregate the animals or the improper disposal of carcasses both have potential to increase CWD transmission.
Steps to reduce the spread of the disease include avoiding activities which congregate deer and elk, reducing deer and elk densities, limiting the movement of potentially infected carcasses around the state, and limiting the dispersal of infected animals.
CWD testing of elk is mandatory while testing of deer is voluntary but encouraged by the AGFC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The test used to determine the presence of CWD requires lymph nodes collected from the animal’s neck as well as a portion of the brainstem from elk. Hunters should preserve the head of their harvested animal with at least 6 inches of neck attached.
Hunters may voluntarily have their deer tested at participating veterinarians’ offices and taxidermists’ shops. Additionally, the AGFC will be placing CWD Testing Drop-Off Containers around the CWD Management Zone and at agency regional offices statewide. Harvested animals should remain cool until testing to reduce decomposition and provide accurate results.
There are a number of precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when processing deer and elk, including wearing nitrile or latex gloves and soaking knives and equipment in a 50-50, bleach and water solution afterward.
During disposal, whenever possible, carcasses should remain near where the deer was harvested, preferably buried at least 2 feet deep to prevent scavengers from digging up the remains. If burying at the site is not possible, hunters should dispose of carcasses directly into a certified lined landfill.
For more information on CWD or to learn more about testing, precautions, regulations and to find certified landfills, visit www.AGFC.com/CWD.