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State to kill 300 deer to slow spread of disease

April 4, 2001 The Associated Press State & Local Wire (Denver)

State wildlife officials plan to kill as many as 300 mule deer in northern Colorado this spring in an attempt to slow the spread of a fatal brain disease that strikes deer and elk.

The effort is aimed at reducing infection rates of chronic wasting disease, which eats away at the brains of deer and elk and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle.

Biologists hope the effort will help them assess whether population density plays a role in infection rates. They want to eventually slash deer herds by half in the area north of Fort Collins, near the epicenter of the disease, and cap deer numbers for a few years at 1999 levels across the entire northeastern region.

"Chronic wasting disease is a serious wildlife concern that threatens the welfare of deer herds in portions of northeastern Colorado," said Russ George, director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "These efforts are part of our measured approach to manage herds affected by this disease."

Earlier this year, hunters killed 205 deer during a special hunt in a 1,000-square-mile area that stretches from Fort Collins to Wyoming. Eight percent of the deer killed had the disease.

But most of the animals were taken in the southern part of the area, which has lower infection rates than areas nearer the border, where the infection rate is near 15 percent.

So biologists will attempt to kill additional deer before the fawning season this spring.

"If they see animals that are obviously affected by the disease, that will be their preferred target," said Mike Miller, a Division of Wildlife veterinarian. "But the truth is most of them look fine."

Meanwhile, biologists will perform tonsillectomies on up to 200 mule deer this year in the Estes Park Valley and near Fort Collins in an attempt to find a nonfatal field test for the disease.

Chronic wasting disease was first discovered at Colorado State University in 1977, but researchers think it existed in wild populations for at least 40 years.

The disease is similar to the fatal human brain malady Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and to mad cow disease. All three are caused by a mutant form of a common protein known as a prion.

Chronic wasting disease has never been shown to infect people [Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence--BSE coordinator] and is unlikely to spread to cows, experts believe.


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