Two mule deer taken recently from west Texas tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease, the first time the invariably fatal illness affecting deer and other cervids has been documented in Texas, adding urgency to proposals by wildlife and animal health officials to prohibit or severely restrict movement of susceptible animals from that corner of the state.
"This is definitely not a crisis," Clayton Wolf, wildlife division director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said of the confirmation Monday from the National Veterinary Services Laboratories that two of 31 mule deer shot along the Texas/New Mexico border were infected with the incurable disease which can be spread to other cervids. The wildlife agency shot the animals as part of a plan monitoring the disease.
The agency and the Texas Animal Health Commission want to impose regulations aimed at minimizing risks of the disease spreading to other parts of Texas. The commission in June proposed regulations establishing a "containment zone" covering El Paso County and portions of Hudspeth and Culberson counties and a "high-risk zone" covering portions of Culberson and Reeves counties from which movement of privately-owned cervids susceptible to the disease would be prohibited or restricted. The deer that tested positive were taken from the Hueco Mountains in El Paso and Hudspeth counties.
The wildlife agency plans later this month to officially propose similar rules which would cover movement of wild deer or captive deer held under agency permits.
The agency also plans to require hunters who harvest deer from the containment area this hunting season take the animals to one of two check stations to be set up in the area. Tissue samples for Chronic Wasting Disease testing will be taken from those hunter-checked deer.
Similar to Mad Cow
No reliable live-animal test exists for the disease, which destroys the deer's brain. The disease can be confirmed only by testing the brain stem of the animal, requiring the animal be killed.
While the disease has not been shown to be transmissible to humans, it is highly contagious to members of the deer family. Caused by a prion, a mutated protein, Chronic Wasting Disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy similar to Mad Cow Disease in bovines and Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. The disease, which can incubate for as long as five years before manifesting clinical symptoms, causes deterioration of the brain.
Texas among 19 states
In deer herds where the disease has become established, as many as half the animals test positive for it. The disease is passed from animal to animal through contact with body fluids such as saliva, urine and feces. Also, "shed" prions can remain viable in the soil for at least two years and perhaps much longer, and can infect deer that ingest the infectious agent while feeding on forbs or other low-growing vegetation.
The disease was first identified in 1967 in captive mule deer in Colorado.
It has since spread, through natural movement of wild deer and human transportation of infected captive deer, to 18 states and two Canadian provinces. Texas is the 19th state to document the disease in its free-ranging or captive deer herd.
The discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease in the Hueco Mountains mule deer was not unexpected, said Wolf. Earlier this year, New Mexico reported mule deer taken by hunters within a couple of miles of the Texas border were confirmed having the disease.
"We knew it was a possibility," Wolf said. The surveillance program that produced the two deer and the drafting of containment plans was a response to the New Mexico cases.
State monitors deer
For 10 years, Texas has had an aggressive Chronic Wasting Disease prevention and monitoring program. Wildlife agency regulations prohibit importing deer into the state, and the agency has tested more than 26,000 hunter-taken deer and 7,400 animals from the captive-deer industry. None of those deer tested positive.
Maintaining a healthy deer herd is an economic and environmental positive for Texas. Recreational deer hunting annually generates an estimated $1.5 billion in economic impact, with the captive-deer industry adding about $650 million.
Most Popular Stories
- Schedule packed with talent at the Fox
- Entrepreneurs Chase Social Media
- European Car Sales up First Time in 20 Months
- I never set out to be a role model but it's great to be one ; IN THE HOTSEATBetter known by his stage name Wretch 32, Jermaine Sinclair is a 28-year-old rapper from London. In 2011 his debut album Black and White sold over a million copies and scored three top five singles. His latest single Blackout was released this week
- Austin musicians point to a variety of reasons to appreciate McCartney
- Manila's Hollywood Week
- Promoter McLean 'provided more musical joy than Dylan and Prince combined'
- SINCE YOU ASKED [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)]
- Financial Times Twitter, Email Hacked
- The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, TK Barger column