CWD Rears Ugly Head in Texas Wildlife

Vast majority of samples collected by TPWD are whitetails

April 7, 2017

By Lisa Lakey

Texas has joined the unwanted ranks of many states with the detection of chronic wasting disease in both free-ranging whitetail and elk.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department released its findings from the 2016-17 collection year where it surpassed its goal and collected 9,830 samples of deer species between March 1, 2016 and Feb. 28, 2017. The samples were collected by hunter submissions, road kill, private ranchers, deer processors and throughout wildlife management areas and state parks.

The vast majority of the samples collected were whitetails.  A variety of exotic deer samples were also taken, including axis, fallow, red stag, sika and elk. Axis and fallow deer are not believed to be susceptible to CWD.

To date, the TPWD has recorded 49 confirmed cases of CWD. Twenty-six of those were detected in captive deer breeding pens, while five were harvested on breeder deer release sites. There have been 16 free-ranging mule deer test positive for the disease.

The 2016-17 results held some notable firsts for Texas. A 1 ½-year-old buck harvested from surveillance zone three (portions of Medina, Uvalde and Bandera counties) became the first confirmed case of CWD in a free-ranging whitetail deer. An elk in Dallam County also became the first case detected in a free-ranging elk.

Additionally, a captive-raised whitetail that had previously tested negative for the disease, tested positive three months later after being harvested by a hunter on a release site.

According to Bob Dittmar, a wildlife veterinarian for the TPWD, not all the news coming from the report is negative.

“The good news is so far our sampling in the Tran-Pecos has only detected CWD in the Hueco Mountains area,” he said. “Since 2012, the disease has been found in 13 mule deer out of the 117 tested in the Hueco Mountains area for an 11 percent prevalence rate.”

Dittmar had “guarded confidence” that CWD is contained in the area to the Hueco Mountains based on the sampling, however, he noted that some areas need more sampling to better understand the distribution and prevalence of the disease.

“The mandatory sampling in the Trans-Pecos SZ helped get an increase in sampling from the Delaware Mountains this year,” he said, “and while we have accumulated a decent number of samples around the Guadalupe Mountains, both remain areas of concern and we still need some more sampling out there.”

Voluntary testing of hunter-harvested deer helped to detect the spread of CWD and resulted in discovery of the free-range whitetail that tested positive. Hunter sampling helps the TPWD take proactive steps to contain the disease, rather than reactively targeting control of CWD.

“The more effective we are at containing this disease within a limited geographic area, the better it will be for our wildlife resources and all those who enjoy them,” Dittmar said. “We want to thank the Texas hunting community for its strong support of our management efforts. We cannot combat the spread of CWD without it.”

TPWD has a detailed summary of its CWD sampling here.

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