—- By Nicholas Johansen/Castanet
The first known cases of Chronic Wasting Disease in British Columbia have been discovered in two deer in the Kootenays.
In a Thursday morning press release, the BC Wildlife Federation says the two samples, from a hunted male mule deer and a road-killed female white-tailed deer, tested positive for CWD on Wednesday.
“We have been watching CWD spread province to province, state to state for at least 20 years, so this is terrible news for British Columbians,” said Jesse Zeman, executive director of the B.C. Wildlife Federation. “CWD is devastating to cervid populations. Continued vigilance and testing are key to organizing preventative measures.”
Cervids are a family of hoofed mammals that include deer, moose, elk, and caribou. CWD, sometimes called “zombie deer disease” is a central nervous system disease that is 100% fatal among cervids.
While the disease is not known to spread to humans or livestock, the BC Centre for Disease Control says “people are advised to take precautions because the potential for transmission cannot be excluded,” and eating the meat from infected animals is not recommended.
Officials have been keeping an eye on the southeastern area of B.C. for some time, as nearby outbreaks have occurred in Alberta, Montana and Idaho. The two recent positive samples came from an area south of Cranbrook.
“This has been one of our greatest fears for years. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when,” Zemen says.
“British Columbia’s challenge now is we have one of the most under-funded fish and wildlife management jurisdictions in North America. Without adequate funding and a measurable response, BC will limp this along and allow it to spread throughout the province.”
Hunters anywhere in B.C. are encouraged to submit the head of an animal after harvesting for CWD testing. Surveillance has been ongoing in the province since 2002, and more than 3,900 samples have been tested in that time.
The disease was first detected in a deer in Colorado in 1967 and it’s been spreading across North America ever since. It has been detected in Canada in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario and has been found a deer farm in Quebec.
Symptoms of CWD in cervids include stumbling, drooling, little fear of humans, and being extremely skinny, although the male mule deer that was recently found near Cranbrook appeared healthy, despite testing positive for CWD.