PIERRE – State Game, Fish and Parks officials say an article appearing in the Feb. 2001 Midwest edition of Field and Stream magazine has generated some concern among sportsmen who have read it.
The article, titled "Deadly Venison?", speaks to the issue of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in both captive and free-roaming populations of deer and elk. The disease causes damage to the brain of infected deer and elk. Animals affected show progressive loss of body condition, behavioral changes, depression and eventual death.
The article mentions that CWD was detected at a game farm in South Dakota in 1998, and then was found in one out of 30 free-ranging white-tailed deer outside of the game farm.
"Indeed, the disease was detected in a privately owned elk herd," said Assistant Director of Wildlife George Vandel. "However, the 30 free-ranging deer that were killed and tested for CWD – one of which was positive – were all inside the game farm fence, not outside."
Vandel added that the Department of Game, Fish and Parks, in cooperation with the state veterinarian’s office and the South Dakota State University Wildlife and Fisheries Department, has done considerable surveillance for CWD in free-ranging deer and elk outside of game farms.
"There has been a commitment of both time and money in an effort to gather and test the heads of animals taken by hunters, as well as any animals that were found sick," he said. "From 1997 through 1999, 368 elk, 519 white-tailed deer and 128 mule deer have been tested and none were found to have chronic wasting disease. These free-ranging animals were collected from areas where it is felt CWD is most likely to occur."
Statewide surveillance will continue. Dr. Sam Holland, State Veterinarian for the Animal Industry Board will be providing instruction and training in the watch for CWD.
"There is no current evidence that chronic wasting disease can be naturally transmitted to humans or to livestock," Holland said. "However, we will be doing all we can to monitor for its presence and prevent its spreading."
South Dakota was the first state to immediately enact a very stringent mandatory surveillance and certification program for chronic wasting disease, and has demonstrated its effectiveness by eliminating all sources of the disease in privately-owned cervids in South Dakota in a three-year period.
"South Dakota^s program is now being used as a model in the development of a national eradication program," Holland added.
Holland said he would be working with lockers, meat inspectors and Game, Fish and Parks personnel to collect samples of deer and elk that have been taken by hunters.
There is little known with certainty about where this disease originated, where it is now found and how it is transmitted. Even though there is no scientific proof that the disease can be naturally transmitted to humans, it is recommended that people avoid contact with any wild animal that appears sick. Report these animals to the nearest Game, Fish and Parks office or Conservation Officer.
Hunters should wear rubber gloves when field dressing carcasses. Minimize the handling of brain or spinal tissues and fluids, and wash hands thoroughly afterwards. Do not handle or consume meat of wild animals that appear sick, regardless of the cause.
Game, Fish and Parks has available an information pamphlet detailing facts concerning CWD. The information is also available on the GF&P web site at http://www.state.sd.us/gfp//