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Wildlife Experts Concerned About Spread Of Chronic Wasting Disease

Ryan E. Poppe

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently announced that chronic wasting disease was detected in two licensed deer breeding facilities. This degenerative disease was first detected in Texas in 2012 and free ranging mule deer along the Texas New Mexico border. The spread concerns wildlife experts. Mitch Lockwood, big game program director for Texas Parks and Wildlife, spoke with TPR's Jerry Clayton.

Clayton: Mitch, first of all, what is CWD?

Lockwood: Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurodegenerative disease. It's a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or more easily referred to as the TSC. That's very similar in the same family of diseases as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE. Some people think of as mad cow disease, the one that's known to affect people is the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or CJD. It's the disease that occurs in some of the deer family and affects ... deer, elk, red deer, sika deer, reindeer, moose. But it always results in death.

Clayton: Mitch, is there any danger that a person could contract chronic wasting disease from an animal?

Lockwood: There's no evidence that people can catch CWD. There's been some work out there with different primates and some studies have not successfully affected primates. There is one study where some macaques were infected with CWD. That study has undergone quite a bit of scrutiny and has not yet been published following peer review. And so the outcome of that is still pending. ...

Clayton: It was recently announced that deer in two parks and wildlife breeding facilities were discovered to have CWD. How concerning is this to you?

Lockwood: Well, it's very concerning. We actually have detected CWD in five breeding facilities since March 2013. Two of the facilities are at the same location. So you can think of it as four different permitted deer breeders of that have been directly affected by this.

But actually, there are a whole lot more people than that that have been affected by this, because these facilities, they buy and sell deer, they transfer deer in and out of the facilities. Two hundred and sixty seven different sites in Texas have received deer from at least one of these facilities in the past five years. But a lot of them are release sites where these deer released in the free range and deer population.

Clayton: What is Parks and Wildlife doing now to mitigate CWD?

Lockwood: We've started a surveillance program back in 2002, and then a few years later, we got into more of a management and prevention program — at least one that was designed to try and stop the introduction of CWD by requiring surveillance within the captive breeding community. That surveillance, though, is really pretty light.

And then the rest of our surveillance statewide was also relatively light until 2012 when we detected it in free range in Mule Deer, in West Texas. And at that time ... we established CWD zones, a containment zone, and in surrounding that being a surveillance zone. And so with these zones come testing requirements for hunter harvest of deer, but also carcass movement restrictions.

In summary, mandatory surveillance, sensitivity zones, restrictions on the movement of live deer, as well as hunter harvest of deer or their carcasses, and then increased surveillance within their breeding facilities throughout this state.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.