Hunters in Saskatchewan are being asked to help track the spread of chronic wasting disease by providing the heads of deer they have harvested to a Ministry of Environment field office to be tested.
"Chronic wasting disease," explained Iga Stasiak Provincial Wildlife Health Specialist with the Ministry of Environment, "is an infectious disease that is fatal and it infects members of the deer family. That includes deer, elk, moose, and caribou."
"The Ministry is asking hunters to drop off heads of animals they've harvested for CWD testing. This is really important to help guide our management. Hunters are encouraged to have their animals tested and they can drop off their heads at any of our Ministry of Environment fields offices."
Those who submit heads for testing will be entered into a draw for one of six pairs of binoculars
The disease is caused by an infectious protein which is common in the environment rather than a bacteria or virus.
"The disease takes a long time to develop so animals could become infected and have the infection for a year or even two years before they start to show symptoms. That makes it really challenging to diagnose."
"Typically you don't start seeing animals in poor condition or develop clinical sign until the final stages of the disease. Weeks or months before death is when they start losing body condition."
The disease directly affects populations of animals in the deer family.
"We know from studies in areas where the disease has been established for a very long time, in the United States, in Wyoming and Colorado that when it becomes established in the population, after a long time, it starts to really negatively impact these populations. It will result in decreased survival and these populations won't thrive in the long term."
This means fewer older bucks and an overall decrease in numbers.
There is also a concern of transfer to humans as this disease is similar to mad cow disease.
"There's been no human cases documented and even in areas where it's been established for a long time. But as a precautionary approach, we do recommend that hunters get their animals tested and the World Health Organization and Health Canada does recommend that hunters avoid eating meat from animals that are infected."
"Hunters can play a really important role in slowing the spread of this disease. There's a number of things hunters can do. One thing is to avoid transporting carcasses over long distances. this is especially important when hunting in an area where CWD is known to occur. If you need to transport it to a taxidermist or a processor, make sure it's wrapped in plastic and double bagged to prevent any leakage."
When you dispose of the carcass, make sure to do so in a permitted landfill. Placing bait or mineral licks can also lead to infection since it brings more deer together and increases transmission.
Hunters are also advised to wear gloves when field-dressing and avoid handling brain or spinal chord tissue and make sure to wash hands and equipment afterwards.
Last year, the Ministry received around 800 heads for testing but this year they would like to see several thousand.
More information can be found here. Hunters in the Estevan area can drop off heads at 128 - 1302 3rd Street.