CWD training

CSKT Wildlife Management Program staff and Tribal Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers train in the collection of lymph glands from deer, elk and moose for testing for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) recently detected in the Libby area.

Tribal hunters advised to test game meat

Char-Koosta News 

BILLINGS — Montana recorded its first suspected case of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the elk population in a cow elk harvested by a landowner on private land northeast of Red Lodge. Samples taken on November 6 confirmed that the elk was infected with CWD. More test results confirmed CWD in three deer harvested in south central Montana — a mule deer on national forest land near Crooked Creek in the Pryor Mountains, a white-tailed deer northwest of Worden and a white-tailed deer on private land northeast of Silesia.

“The spread of the disease can’t be known on how far or fast it will go, but it will spread,” said Shannon Clairmont, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Natural Resource Department wildlife biologist. Hunters are encouraged to recognize the symptoms of CWD infected game. CWD is spreading further into the state’s western region especially around Libby and it is expected to arrive sooner or later on the Flathead Reservation. 

Chronic Wasting Disease is a contagious neurological disease affecting elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and moose. The effects are a spongy degeneration of the brain cells of infected animals that results in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bloody functions and finally death. The agent is a prion, an abnormal form of cellular protein that is most commonly found in the central nervous system and lymphoid tissue of the host animal. 

Prion infects host animals by promoting conversion of normal cellular protein to an abnormal form. CWD infectious agents are smaller than most viral particles making it undetectable via an inflammatory reaction of the host animal. CWD is assumed to be resistant to enzymes and chemicals as well as resistant to heat and normal disinfecting procedures.

The first case of CWD was in a captive mule deer in Colorado by wildlife research facility in the late 1960s. However, this case was not identified as a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) until the 1970s. Computer modeling suggested that the disease has been present in free-range mule deer for 40 years. Scrapie, a TSE of domesticated sheep, was recognized in the United States in 1947. It is possible that CWD was derived from scrapie but not proven. Mule deer came into contact with scrapie in the open front range of the Rocky Mountains, or at shared pastures where high sheep grazing occurred in the 1900s or as a spontaneous TSE biological feature. The origin of CWD is unknown and it may never be possible to definitely determine how or when CWD arose. 

The first confirmed case in Montana was in a mule deer in Carbon County in 2017 as a result of scheduled searches on harvested game. Until recently all cases of CWD has been present in mule deer and white-tailed deer.

The cause of transmission is unknown, though it’s been attributed to contact with feces, urine, saliva, antler velvet, or the carcass of an infected animal. It is also thought to be lateral (animal to animal) although maternal transmission (from mother to fetus) may occur.

Contained pastures appear to have served as a source of infection in some CWD epidemics. CWD was found in a herd of captive game-farm elk near Philipsburg in 1999 and the herd was depopulated. Until the week of November 25, the disease had not been found in wild elk in Montana. Movement of the animals is a big cause of CWD spread into new areas as has human-aided transport.

Most cases of CWD have no visible symptoms until the last few months of the disease cycle. Game infected with CWD change in behavior, such as feed consumption, which is reduced leading to gradual loss of body condition; excess drinking and urination; decrease in interaction with other animals; lowering of the head; blank facial expression; and repetitive walking in set patterns. Elk behavior changes may include hyper-excitability and nervousness, excessive salivation, drooling and grinding of teeth. These signs all could also be signs of post trauma from a car accident and or other natural accidents. The only true way to determine CWD is an examination of the brain or of the tonsil lymph nodes performed after death. 

How do I know I harvested an infected game animal?

Don’t shoot, handle or consume an elk or deer that is acting abnormally or appears sick. Wear gloves when dressing, minimize the use of a bone saw, minimize contact with and do not consume the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, or lymph nodes. In areas known to have CWD you must debone game meat before taking it home as well as sending a sample for testing. Always wash hands after dressing and processing game meat. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks encourage anyone who harvests a deer, elk or moose in Montana to submit tissue samples for CWD testing at no cost to the hunter. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that hunters harvesting animals in areas known to have CWD to get them tested. CDC advises against eating game meat from animals testing positive for CWD.

The 2019 general hunting season ended Sunday Dec. 1. Hunters wanting their animals tested can follow instructions online at http://fwp.mt.gov/cwd

Also: CSKT Wildlife Management Program on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CSKTWildlife/

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