Test results on diseased deer expected soon: Wild deer population will dwindle if second case of CWD confirmed

Test results on diseased deer expected soon:
Wild deer population will dwindle if second case of CWD confirmed

June 21, 2001 The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) by Greg Pender

Provincial Environment Department officials hope to know as early as today whether they have found the province's second case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in its wild deer population.

Tissue samples from a four-year-old mule deer buck, one of 213 wild deer killed in a managed hunt by Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management (SERM) staff in late April and early May, have been labelled ``suspicious.'' The samples were sent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab in Nepean, Ont., for further testing.

Should the brain tissue sample prove positive for CWD, it would be confirmed again by scientists at Colorado State University.

Kevin Omoth, a senior programs and policy analyst with SERM's fish and wildlife division, said it is too early to jump to conclusions about the ``suspicious'' find. He said only one of two samples to reach this stage in the past have proved positive.

``It's a crap shoot,'' said Omoth. ``It would be unprofessional to call it one way or another. With that double verification process they want to be absolutely certain if they have a positive that they call it the right way because there are ramifications all over the place.''

** The deer in question was shot by wildlife officials within five ** kilometres of the site where a hunter killed the first infected deer found in the Manito sand hills near Marsden last year. That first case of CWD in the wild was confirmed by SERM in April and prompted a hunt so that it would have a larger sample from area.

A provincial program of voluntary submissions of deer heads from hunters, which provided the initial positive case, did not accurately reflect the sand hills area, according to SERM. About 1,400 heads were submitted last year by hunters, but only about 40 were from the management zone that includes the Manito sand hills.

CWD has devastated the provincial elk game farming industry, where the number of animals marked for destruction is approaching 6,000. All cases of the disease in those elk have been traced to infected animals from known source farms.

Should the second sample prove positive for CWD, a further heavy reduction in deer population for the area is likely.

``We'll be looking a lot more closely at getting a lot more samples from that area,'' Omoth said, adding his department is discussing herd reduction strategies.

Whether the original confirmed CWD case in wild deer was a result of contact with infected game farm elk is not known, although it was shot within about 100 kilometres of the source farm for the disease among elk in this province.

It is not known if the disease occurs naturally in the wild.

CWD is a progessive and fatal sickness affecting the nervous system of cervid (deer family) animals. It is a spongiform encephalopathy, similar to mad-cow disease in cattle.

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