The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced last week that a quarantined captive deer herd in Cerro Gordo County tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). Officials state that out of the 356 deer in the herd, 284—or 79.8 percent—were confirmed to have the disease. It is suspected to be the largest case of CWD infection in captive deer ever recorded.

“This is what happens when you allow disease to sit and percolate on a game farm,” Bryan Richards, a CWD expert at the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center, told The Indianapolis Star.

CWD is a highly contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk, and moose. Common symptoms in affected animals include behavioral changes such as listlessness, repetitive motions, and excessive salivation and urination. The disease is especially worrisome to wildlife officials because it is progressive and always ends with death, while there are few cost-effective treatment options. Thankfully, it is not believed to affect humans.

CWD was first discovered in Iowa from a whitetail buck on a hunting preserve in 2012. The following investigation traced that animal to the captive deer farm in Cerro Gordo, which was immediately quarantined. After confirming the presence of the disease, health and wildlife officials proceeded to eliminate the herd in late August. The owners of the herd will be paid $917,100 as compensation for the depopulated herd, but are required by the state to put up a fence to prevent any deer in the facility from escaping and possibly infecting wild deer populations.

“The owners of the quarantined herd have entered into a fence maintenance agreement with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, which requires the owners to maintain the 8’ foot [sic] perimeter fence around the herd premises for five years after the depopulation was complete and the premises had been cleaned and disinfected,” stated the Department of Agriculture in a press release.

The incident has drawn more attention to the threat that CWD poses to captive deer herds. Some lawmakers, like Senator Dick Dearden (D-Des Moines), want to increase containment precautions around Iowa’s deer farms.

“I’m glad that herd is gone, but we need more protection for the state’s wild deer,” Dearden told The Gazette.

Dearden previously introduced legislation that would require all deer farms and preserves in the state to increase the height of their fences and to add a 10-foot secondary fence as well.

Image from M Glasgow on the Wikimedia Commons

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