Arkansas wildlife officials only recently announced the discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the state, and the first concentrated round of testing revealed that the illness was far more widespread than expected. This week the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) revealed that testing in Newton and Boone counties, where CWD was suspected to exist, resulted in a shocking 23 percent prevalence rate. Out of 266 randomly collected wild deer, 63 tested positive for the disease. This is the biggest number of animals found with the fatal disease since officials started testing in February. Since then, 648 animals have been sampled (including whitetail deer and elk) and only 82 animals tested positive.
AGFC Wildlife Management Division Chief Brad Carner says the agency is pleased with how smoothly the sampling effort is going.
“We’re pleased with the help the public has provided and the number of samples being collected. We hope to see these sample numbers continue through May 20,” he said in a press release.
What the AGFC isn’t pleased with however, is the high prevalence of CWD. It has already passed what some have called an acceptable threshold. At a prevalence of 23 percent, some hunters are becoming worried.
“That’s not the highest prevalence rate out there, but its not the lowest either,” AGFC biologist Cory Gray told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “When we got the news that we got a CWD animal, the best news would have been that we would have a low prevalence rate, and we’re not seeing that. It’s higher than anyone would wish for.”
Gray says testing results indicate that CWD has been in the state longer than officials expected. The first documented case of CWD was only discovered last October—and confirmed in February through laboratory testing. That animal, a hunter-harvested elk cow, was taken near Pruitt on the Buffalo National River. The AGFC is now trying to determine how far the disease has spread. CWD is always fatal to animals who contract the disease, but so far it does not appear to affect humans.
“Deer or elk infected with CWD tend to stay away from herds, may lose their fear of humans, walk in patterns, carry their head low, salivate excessively and grind their teeth,” the AGFC stated. “As the disease progresses, the animal will lose weight, develop an insatiable thirst and lose bodily functions.”
Officials are asking turkey hunters to report any sick animals to their local AGFC office.
Image courtesy Arkansas Game and Fish Commission