Chronic wasting disease has come to Arkansas. State officials announced last week that an elk harvested by a hunter near Pruitt on the Buffalo National River last October has tested positive for CWD. This is the first time any animal in Arkansas was confirmed to have the disease. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) immediately convened in a special meeting last Monday to discuss the issue in Little Rock, where officials decided to stick to a CWD response plan first created a decade ago in 2006.
“Several years ago, Arkansas proactively took measures to put a testing procedure in place and created an emergency CWD plan,” said Brad Carner, chief of the AGFC Wildlife Management Division, in a press release. “Those precautions are now proving to be beneficial. We are in a strong position to follow the pre-established steps to ensure the state’s valuable elk and white-tailed deer herds remain healthy and strong.”
Chronic wasting disease is an infectious disease that is fatal to elk and whitetail deer. Researchers believe it is spread through prions, infected cellular proteins which is capable of twisting other proteins into abnormal shapes. This causes affected animals to act strangely, disregard predators, lose weight, and it is ultimately fatal. CWD was first discovered in Colorado in 1967, and have since been detected in 24 states and two Canadian provinces. It is not believed to affect humans, but experts still remind hunters to be cautious and to wear gloves when dressing game.
“As far as we know, it’s not transmissible to humans at all,” said Sue Weinstein, state public health veterinarian for the Arkansas Department of Health. “In other states where they have CWD and they are studying this, they have found no human disease at all. To be on the safe side, it is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and by the Department of Health that you not eat meat from an animal that you know is infected with chronic wasting disease.”
Wildlife officials are now working with the National Park Service and local landowners to gather samples from up to 300 elk or whitetail deer within a five-mile radius of where the diseased elk was harvested. A multi-county CWD management zone will also be established and public forums held to discuss strategies as well as answer questions. Experts do not know when CWD arrived in the state, or how many other animals may be affected. Luckily, state officials will have the knowledge and backing of all the other states that have previously dealt with the disease.
“Although CWD is a serious threat to Arkansas’s elk and white-tailed deer, we are not the first to deal with the disease,” said AGFC Director Mike Knoedl. “Our staff is prepared and, with help from the public, will respond with effective measures. We have learned from the experiences of 23 other states.”