Program aims to keep chronic wasting disease out of Arizona
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Program aims to keep chronic wasting disease out of Arizona

While some deer and elk herds in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah are dying from chronic wasting disease, Arizona has so far been spared.

With fall hunting season at hand, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is asking hunters once again to help keep the neurological disease out of the state.

A program in place since 1998 urges hunters to turn over the heads of deer and elk to be tested for chronic wasting disease, along with information on where the animal was killed.

“The program has had great hunter participation,” said Anne Justice-Allen, Game and Fish wildlife health specialist. “This year we are on track to collect our goal of 1,500 samples.”

The department also works with taxidermists, meat processors and state hunting and wildlife organizations to raise awareness and participation.

“We’ve put out a lot of information and are looking to increase cooperation with others,” Justice-Allen said.

Chronic wasting disease, which occurs in 17 states around the country and parts of Canada, attacks an animal’s brain, causing progressive weight loss and abnormal behavior such as walking in circles. Spread by contact, it was first identified in a captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967.

While it is related to mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease isn’t thought to be transmissible to humans; there have been no known cases of people contracting it.

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In New Mexico, the goal is to contain the disease, according to Kerry Mower, a wildlife specialist for that state’s Department of Game and Fish. In areas where chronic wasting disease is present, hunters are told to take meat from big game but leave behind the bones and brains.

“People may make the argument that this will put the effective agent in the soil – and it might, it might not – but we’re not worried about that as much as we are about spreading it to new areas,” he said.

Officials in affected states, as well as in Arizona, encourage hunters to avoid killing animals that appear sick and also report their sightings. They also should avoid eating the meat of suspect animals, especially the brain, eyes, spleen and lymph nodes.

Justice-Allen said the Arizona Game and Fish Department works closely with other states to share information and monitor the spread of chronic wasting disease.

She said the disease could easily make it into Arizona.

“Chronic wasting disease is transmitted by direct contact, so it’s good our animals on the borders have not tested positive,” Justice-Allen said.

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Arizona Game and Fish Department

While it’s present in Utah and New Mexico, chronic wasting disease has yet to be detected among big game animals, such as elk, in Arizona.

Chronic wasting disease symptoms

  • Emaciation, lowered head and ears, blank stare and excessive thirst.
  • Decreased food consumption leading to poor body condition.
  • Teeth grinding and excessive salivation.
  • Wide stance and lack of coordination.
  • Walking in circles.