Hunters Asked to Watch for Signs of Chronic Wasting Disease
Prince George, B.C. – Hunting season is getting underway, and B.C.’s Ministry of the Forests Lands and Natural Resources is calling on hunters to keep an eye open for animals exhibiting symptoms of chronic wasting disease.
The disease affects deer moose and elk. First detected in Saskatchewan, it is now widespread in Alberta and is moving west towards the B.C. border, although biologists have no evidence at this point that any animals in B.C. have been infected.
Kate Nelson is a Wildlife Health biologist with the Ministry, “Chronic wasting disease is caused by an abnormal protein that targets the central nervous system. Deer infected with the disease in the early stages, don’t actually show any signs of it, so animals that test positive are often appearing healthy and harvested by hunters. It’s not always easy to tell if a deer has the disease or not.” She says in later stages of the disease, symptoms might include weight loss, drooling, poor coordination or stumbling. The disease is always fatal.
“We’re also calling on the hunting population to submit their deer, elk and moose heads from harvested animals which may otherwise look healthy so we can test those animals and learn more about what’s out there.”
She says the natural spread from animal to animal, is thought to be a slow process, “But since the introduction ( of the disease) in Canada in Saskatchewan, it has been spreading through Alberta. But the second way chronic wasting disease can move into British Columbia is through import of an infected carcass by hunters. So lots of B.C. hunters go to the prairies to hunt and we’re really concerned about individuals who are hunting in areas where chronic wasting disease occurs and we want to make sure hunters are aware of the risks of bringing any infected tissues back into B.C.” She says if any of the infected tissue comes into contact with the soil in B.C. those abnormal proteins could infect the B.C. environment and infect other animals moving through the area.
At this point there is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted to humans through contact or consumption of infected meat.
Hunters are being asked to drop off the heads of the deer, moose or elk that they have harvested to any B.C. Conservation office, and additional locations have been set up in the Peace region and in the Kootenays as both areas are considered to be at high risk because they are close to the Alberta border.
In the Peace, the heads can be dropped off at:
- North Peace Rod and Gun Club, Fort St John
- Peace Taxidermy, Hwy 29
- Russell’s Custom Meat Cutting, Chetwynd
In the Kootenay region, the drop off points are:
- Cliff’s Meat, Kimberley
- Rick’s Fine Meats, Cranbrook
Nelson says hunters who want to keep the rack that’s ok “For our purposes of sampling, they can remove the antlers from the head and retain them. If they want to keep the whole head and rack intact, then they can contact us and we can actually sample those tissues and then return everything to them, we just need to make special arrangements to do that.”
Nelson says what they are looking for in order to collect a good sample is a head that has not been shot in the head, “and if possible, part of the neck of the animal still intact because samples need to be taken from the back of the throat. It is really important they also include their contact information and some information on where the animal was harvested so that we can report back to them and have the appropriate data for that head so we can track results.”