With concerns growing about a deadly disease, the government of Saskatchewan has asked hunters to submit animal heads for study.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal disease which affects the nervous system of deer, elk, and in rarer cases, moose.
Katharine Mehl, the manager of the landscape and habitat assessment branch within the Ministry of Environment said the government is noticing a rise in CWD in Saskatchewan. She said in Colorado and Wyoming, where numerous CWD research studies have been conducted, empirical evidence has linked the whitetail and mule deer populations decline to the disease.
“We have a concern how [CWD] will impact our populations in the future,” Mehl said. “We need everyone’s help to monitor and know where it is... so we can find ways to reverse that and at least reduce the spread.”
Mehl said the government operates from data which is driven by hunters submitting the heads of their kills for testing. In some Wildlife Management Zones, the ministry found the rate of CWD in deer can be as high as 43 percent - but those zones also saw low testing participation.
Mehl said the province conducted the first study on CWD between 1997 and 2003. Roughly 11,000 samples were collected with 12 animals testing positive for the disease. Last year 367 samples were collected from across the province and 40 tested positive for CWD.
CWD spreads by animal-to-animal contact through saliva, urine, and feces. Infectious agents also bind to soil and vegetation animals use which makes it particularly tricky to eradicate. Mehl said when more animals congregate in an area where CWD has been found, the risk for exposure to the disease increases. Animals are 680 times more likely to contract the disease from exposure to infected soil than they are from animal-to-animal.
She said the ministry has partnered with the University of Saskatchewan to conduct CWD research in the field. The results will be used to create a baseline to test if actions taken to reduce CWD in the environment are working.
Heads can be submitted to conservation offices around the province for testing. Hunters will be given a tag with an identification number, which they can track online to find the results of their kills.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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