DNR says orphaned fawns should be killed, too

June 7, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Anita Weier
Some landowners in the deer eradication zone that will be the focus of a weeklong hunt starting Saturday are worried about the fawns that will be orphaned if does are killed.

But state Department of Natural Resources spokesmen say it is necessary to start killing deer now, when newborn fawns are relatively helpless, and to kill them as well as older animals.

"There are certain ethical issues for me as far as the fawns," said Michael Albert, who lives on Ryan Road in the town of Vermont, in the area where a fatal nervous system disease was first found in Wisconsin's white-tailed deer herd. "I am a hunter but also a very ethical hunter. I have a problem shooting a mother and leaving the fawns abandoned to die on their own. I would rather take on more of the burden in the fall. Then the fawns have gotten to the point where they can take care of themselves. As a person with a passion for animals, I like to do things right."

David Frame, who also lives on Ryan Road, worries about fawns starving to death in the woods.

But he also fears that does could pass the degenerative brain disease on to their fawns.

Greg Matthews, regional public affairs manager for the DNR, said there are indications that there is maternal inheritance of CWD, so there is a good chance it could be passed on to fawns.

In any case, he said, it would be more humane to shoot fawns as well so they do not starve to death.

But Elizabeth Williams, a professor of veterinary sciences at the University of Wyoming, said tests done there have not provided direct evidence of maternal transmission before birth.

"We certainly can't rule it out," Williams said. "We haven't seen any evidence of the abnormal protein in the placentas, but the numbers we've tested are too small -- probably 10 or 12 -- to make broad generalizations. Additional testing needs to be done."

But she added that interaction between an infected doe and her fawn could transmit the disease.

"There is no evidence it is in the milk, but mom is licking the baby and the doe is nuzzling the fawn, and the doe eats the fawn feces to keep it clean, to keep it from smelling so coyotes and other predators don't get it," Williams said.

Such close interaction could transmit the disease, she added.

"There is some evidence that close contact between deer and fawns may be a factor in transmission," agreed Julie Langenberg, a veterinarian with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who heads a multi-agency health and science team studying the disease.

"Since animal-to-animal contact may be a factor, one of the most persistent contacts is from doe to fawn."

Deer under 18 months of age were not sampled during the recent testing of 500 white-tailed deer from western Dane and eastern Iowa counties. Langenberg said they were advised to focus on older animals in looking for the disease.

"One reason was that the test we were using picks up the disease later in the course of the disease," she said. "Also, if you are trying to ask if a disease is present in a new regional population, it is better to focus on older animals because they have a better chance of picking it up. They are around longer to be exposed."

Now, however, all ages will be tested, Langenberg said.

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