In response to recent media reports, officials with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources are reminding the public that there have been no reported cases of chronic wasting disease in any elk or deer in Kentucky. Chronic wasting disease creates a series of effects on the animal and is always fatal. Symptoms include loss of body condition, excessive salivation, depression, and increased drinking or urination.
Research shows that chronic wasting disease is more prevalent in captive elk. KDFWR Elk Biologist Jon Gassett adds that “to additionally reduce the risk of introducing chronic wasting disease into Kentucky we are only releasing wild elk into the state.” Only wild elk tested in a small area of Colorado and Wyoming have been found to have chronic wasting disease. Source states for Kentucky’s restoration project include Kansas, Utah, Arizona, North Dakota and Oregon, where no cases of chronic wasting disease have been reported.
According to experts and public health officials, it appears unlikely that chronic wasting disease is naturally transmissible to humans, or to animals other than elk or deer. Biologists also believe that it is unlikely that chronic wasting disease can be naturally transmitted to domestic livestock. Chronic wasting disease is similar to two livestock diseases: scrapie which affects domestic sheep and goats worldwide and has been recognized for over 200 years, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) which is a more recent disease of cattle in the United Kingdom. Though there are similarities, there is no evidence suggesting either scrapie or BSE are caused by contact with wild deer or elk. Although research is ongoing, neither the agent causing chronic wasting disease or its mode of transmission has been identified.
To test for chronic wasting disease, a necropsy must be performed on the dead animal. Necropsies have been performed on all animals that die while in route to Kentucky. KDFWR also makes every effort to retrieve and necropsy any elk that die within the state. To date there have been no reports of chronic wasting disease in Kentucky elk or deer. However, as always KDFWR advises that no hunter take or consume any game animal that appears sick, regardless of the cause.
For more information about Kentucky’s elk restoration project please call the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ Frankfort office at (800) 858-1549.