What Is Chronic Wasting Disease?
Like most people who hunt deer species in North America, I have a minimal knowledge of the disease known as CWD. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal (to deer species) neurological disease. A misfolded protein called a prion causes the disease.
It passes from one deer to another through animal to animal contact. The shedding of prions through bodily fluids and/or the decay of infected animals creates a contaminated environment which allows the spread of the disease.
The disease does not pass along to humans or domestic livestock. But it can have a devastating effect on deer herds, especially if they are concentrated in a location such as those yarding up in winter and those in a breeding facility.
Biologists have tried numerous programs to limit the spread of the disease but as yet there is no known cure.
Most programs involve isolating infected areas and the sampling of brain tissue to find infected animals.
Last fall produced the harvest of the best deer of a 60-year hunting career. When told testing for CWD is required, anxiety set in. Visions of some college kid working for the game officials butchering the cape to get at the brain tissue came to the fold. Such was not the case.
Squaw Mountain Ranch where the deer was taken is also a deer breeding facility for sale of deer to ranches across Texas. In order to protect their property and herd, the ranch participates in a number of studies with the wildlife officials of the state. It is no near any of the areas where CWD has been found in the state and the hope to keep it that way.
Any deer that dies on this ranch is checked.
Concerns about damage to the cape are unwarranted. Watching the process turned out to be a good learning experience. Dusty, a guide on the ranch follows normal capeing procedures. However as the cape is rolled toward the head, an incision is made at the joining of the spinal column to the base of the brain.
With some specialized tools he is able to remove a two inch section of the spinal column. He places the sample in a container and sent out for testing. At the lab they section the sample and examine it under a microscope for any folded prions.
After two years of sampling every deer, this ranch has not found a single infected animal.
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