The recent discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in a captive deer in Missouri underscores the need for vigilance in monitoring whitetails and taking action when questionable deer are discovered in Texas captive breeding facilities.
The animal that tested positive for CWD was a captive white-tailed deer inspected as part of Missouri's CWD surveillance and testing program. Preliminary tests were conducted by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and a "tested positive" result was disclosed last week.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has investigated several deer smuggling cases involving whitetails brought into the state from several states where CWD has been confirmed, including Missouri.
"This is why we banned importation of deer from out of state and why we continue to monitor for illegal activity," said Carter Smith, Executive Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In February 2010 a case of CWD was confirmed in Linn County, Missouri, on a captive hunting preserve operated by the same entity, Heartland Wildlife Ranches, LLC. The Linn County facility was depopulated and no further infection was identified at that facility. The current case was identified through increased surveillance required by the management plan implemented from the previous CWD incident.
Since TPWD implemented a CWD surveillance initiative 10 years ago, more than 35,000 deer have been tested in Texas; the results to date have all come back "not detected."
"The absence of any disease findings is by no means a reason to stop testing," Smith said. "The best measures we can take are proactive ones, and our goal is to keep CWD out of the state at all costs."
CWD is a fatal disease of North American elk and deer, including white-tailed deer and mule deer. There is no indication that CWD in deer can lead to disease in native livestock or people. Wildlife officials regard prevention as the primary and most effective tool to combat CWD. Once established in a wild population, diseases are extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to eradicate.
TPWD has stepped up epidemiological investigations involving questionable deer held illegally in Texas with input and assistance from representatives of the Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas Wildlife Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas Deer Association, private veterinarians, and other stakeholders.
"We take disease issues very seriously because of the potential impacts to Texas' natural resources and the multi-million dollar hunting and deer breeding industries," Smith said. "TPWD works collaboratively with deer breeders and other deer stakeholders to develop and implement rules to minimize the risk of CWD in Texas."
The implications from a CWD outbreak in Texas' internationally recognized white-tailed deer population, both free-ranging and captive, would be significant. Deer hunting is an important cultural and recreational component of Texas lifestyle, pursued annually by more than 600,000 sportsmen, and has an economic impact to the state in excess of $2.2 billion a year, according to published reports. In addition, studies show deer breeding activities have an economic impact in Texas of about $650 million annually.
CWD was originally described in captive animals 35 years ago in Colorado. However, over the last five years, the fatal disease has been detected in free-ranging and captive cervids in several surrounding states and Canada. The Missouri discovery places CWD in 20 states and Canadian provinces.
The general deer hunting season in Texas opens Nov. 5 and TPWD biologists will be at locker plants and processing facilities collecting voluntarily-submitted hunter harvested deer tissue samples for CWD testing. Hunters can also contact their local TPWD wildlife biologist if they would like to offer samples for testing. A contact list of TPWD biologists can be found online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/landwater/land/technical_guidance/biologists/.