Mule deer found wasting disease in New Mexico; experts say it's southernmost case

June 20, 2002 SAPA (South African Press Association) by Mary Perea
A mule deer has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the first case in New Mexico and the southernmost discovery of the disease that kills wild deer and elk, officials said Tuesday.

The deer was found hundreds of miles south of what had been thought to be the southernmost spread of the disease, in Jefferson County, Colo., near Denver.

The positive test was confirmed Monday by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory. State game officials closed New Mexico's borders to importation of deer and elk Tuesday as the state declared an animal health emergency. "We want to isolate it and prevent its spread," said state Game and Fish Department Director Larry Bell.

Wasting disease is always fatal in deer and elk. It is not considered a threat to humans.

The disease has been present in the wild for decades in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, but most of its recent spread has been linked to shipping infected domesticated deer and elk among game farms.

However, no animals have been imported to the White Sands Missile Range where the animal was taken March 28.

A good sample of the deer on the range will have to be killed and tested. If the disease is widespread, the entire population on the range may have to be killed, said Kerry Mower, a disease specialist with the state Department of Game and Fish.

"We need to answer two questions," Mower said. "How geographically widespread could this disease be? How prevalent could it be within the population?"

The state does not know how many deer are on the 3,200-square mile missile range, but Mower estimates the area north of the base is home to tens of thousands.

In the past 10 years, chronic wasting disease has been found in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In southwestern Wisconsin, hunters began shooting deer this month as part of an unprecedented summer hunt meant to rid the state of the disease.

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