Friday, 24 November 2017 03:00

Hunters help track diseases with CWD Surveillance Program

Written by  Demi Knight
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A victim of CWD A victim of CWD File photo

The Province's environment department is asking hunters across Southern Alberta for their help in tracking a disease that is plaguing the deer population and continues to spread throughout the entire province.

By asking hunters to submit their deer heads and the geographic location that the deer was hunted in to the CWD surveillance program, so that they can be tested for the increasing sickness that is Chronic Wasting Disease.
“We’ve been running this hunter program since 1998, so it’s not something new,” says one of Alberta’s Wildlife Disease Specialists, Dr. Margo Pybus.
“However, generally speaking, it is new to Alberta. It was probably accidentally introduced in Saskatchewan in the 1980’s and what we’re seeing in Alberta is it spreading across the border, we actually didn’t find a case in the province until 2005 which was 12 years into the study however since then, we’ve seen a steady increase in CWD now in Alberta.”
Chronic Wasting disease which affects members of the deer family including mules, white-tailed deer and elk is a fatal illness that affects the proteins in the lymph nodes and brains of these creatures before eventually killing them.
However, CWD is not native to Alberta, but as the species follow the river banks, the disease has slowly spilled into the east of the province and is heading south and north over time, prompting officials to widen their reach to hunters and ask them to cooperate in this surveillance program. In fact, with the rapid growth of this disease the government is making it mandatory for hunters to send their deer heads in for CWD testing in eastern Alberta from Cold Lake south to the US border.
“The deer head testing program is really helping us document what’s happening, and can show better the increase rate of how it’s spreading further west,” says Pybus. “Basically, there’s a corridor from Medicine Hat that the deer have traveled on and have come straight up from the south of the Saskatchewan border and into Alberta. The deer have since followed the river valleys further across the province (since they are the best deer habitat) and that is mainly where the transmission occurs.”
Although it is not known how exactly the disease is passed from species to species Pybus added that there are several methods that scientists believe are the main methods of infection for deer across the province.
“In wild populations, we don’t exactly know how it’s spread but direct contact is definitely the primary problem, whether its through body where infected animals directly pass it on to another or through infectious materials that could be shed onto the ground and picked up by other animals.”
However, even with the knowledge of how more and more deer are getting infected with CWD as time goes on, Pybus says controlling or treating the illness is not an easy or even viable task.
“It’s very difficult to stop. What we’re trying to do is target CWD, look at pattern disease data, and we’re also trying to focus hunter harvest on mule deer where its more prominent and manipulate the harvest there, so hunters can kill those deer and remove those infected ones before they transmit.”
Pybus also added that manipulating the harvest and asking hunters to focus mainly on the areas where the disease is mostly prevalent would be the only control the government has of CWD as there’s no treatment or vaccine available to cure the illness as of right now.
 Pybus adds although health authorities have stated they cannot find any evidence of CWD infecting people, they do recommend that persons do not eat the animals that test positive for CWD and suggest that all hunters submit their deer heads for testing before consuming their meat. The 2017 CWD surveillance program which is currently underway asks hunters across the province to submit their harvested deer heads which should remain frozen until dropped off at the closest Fish and Wildlife office during regular business hours. More information on submission guidelines and maps of closest drop off points can be found online at

Read 411 times Last modified on Thursday, 23 November 2017 13:05

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