Hunters asked for heads: Alberta surveys deer, elk for wasting disease

October 20, 2001 Calgary Herald by Kerry Williamson
Wildlife officers are calling for the heads of elk and deer killed in Alberta this fall, to help them fight a fatal brain disease that could threaten the province's wild herd.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development is calling on hunters to play a vital part in a survey aimed at detecting signs of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer.

The disease has not been detected in Alberta, but was identified in two wild mule deer in Saskatchewan in April. It is from the same group as mad cow disease and its human variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease.

However, there is no evidence it can spread to humans or cattle.

Until the Saskatchewan discovery, the disease had previously only been found in elk raised on ranches.

The discovery led to the destruction of more than 3,000 animals in Saskatchewan by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in an effort to control the disease.

Dr. Margo Pybus, wildlife disease specialist for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said the risk of CWD being introduced into Alberta was "very low."

"We have been doing surveillance since 1996 and we haven't found it. I would be extremely surprised if we ever did find it," she said.

However, data collected would be important to prove Alberta was not affected by the disease.

"When we are dealing with other areas, the first thing they ask is where is the evidence that we do not have the disease.

"At the moment, we don't have that data one way or the other," said Pybus.

Hunters are being urged to provide the heads of mature elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer from throughout the province, either intact, or with skull plate and antlers removed.

Of particular interest are animals killed along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, from near Lloydminster to Provost.

Heads should be frozen as soon as possible and they should be kept frozen when delivered to Fish and Wildlife officers.

Hunters should also include information identifying the kill date, location, species, sex and approximate age.

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