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Oklahoma wildlife department monitoring fatal brain disease in deer, elk

Patrick Hendry

Oklahoma’s Department of Wildlife Conservation ramps up surveillance of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) after a diseased deer was found within miles of the panhandle.

A white-tailed deer carcass recently recovered along a Texas road near the Oklahoma panhandle border tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects the brains of deer, elk, moose and other members of the cervid family by creating sponge-like holes in their brains.

Although the deer carcass was found outside of Oklahoma’s border, 2.5 miles south of Felt, wildlife experts are ramping up surveillance in the area because of the diseased deer's close proximity to the state.

“This isn't something that can just be eradicated from a population,” said Dallas Barber, a big game biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We have to know where it's at first to take measures to really manage the disease and prevent it from spreading as much as possible.”

Barber said the best method of disease prevention is by testing tissue samples of hunter-harvested deer and elk, which the agency will continue to do. He also said the wildlife department will hold voluntary testing opportunities for hunters around the Cimarron County area once Oklahoma’s deer and elk hunting season begins in October.

Barber added that it's difficult to diagnose deer and elk with Chronic Wasting Disease based on appearance because symptoms may be similar to other diseases, and it may take years before CWD-positive animals show symptoms.

“Infected deer may look extremely emaciated,” Barber said. “Really skinny deer that might hang their head between their legs, and excessively drool and urinate.”

Transmission of chronic wasting disease to humans and livestock has not been documented. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend people or animals eat any deer or elk diagnosed or showing signs of CWD, as a precaution.

To learn more information about Chronic Wasting Disease, visit the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website.

Xcaret Nuñez covered agriculture and rural communities for KOSU as a corps member with Report for America from June 2022 to September 2023.
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