The latest on chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer: Dr. Jim Mitchell,
white-tail deer biologist for the Division of Fish and Wildlife, reports
that this brain disorder now has been found in the northern part of Illinois.
Discovered in the western parts of the continent several years back,
this disease, which to this point is not believed to be communicable to
man, seems to have spread eastward rather rapidly in more recent years.
Is this really the case? I think not.
To this point, nobody has asked for my sage advice on CWD, but volunteerism
wells high at times, even if the source is not well informed on the subject.
With that admission that there are no scientific bones in my body, I
proceed with my prognostication on the presence of CWD in Indiana's deer
herd. I have to believe that it is here now and probably has been present
in Hoosier deer for some time.
The gist of my hypothesis comes from the fact that man is almost totally
unaware (and for the most part, uncaring) about the maladies of wild critters--including
deer, rabbits, and others of their ilk (wild birds and animals) until such
foibles reflect on man.
Remember tularemia? That was/is rabbit fever, an inflammation of the
lymph glands in man, contracted by contact with the flesh of infected animals.
Hoosiers in Southern Indiana in the 1930s subsisted in the winter months
on the cottontail rabbit. Hoosier hunters bagged millions of rabbit each
winter. Then came discovery of the dread tularemia.
Tularemia was said to have claimed the lives of a few people in Indiana
and it was credited with making many others--including a few friends of
mine--quite ill. It did not disappear.
Years later, while consulting our family doctor about other matters
of health, I asked about what ever happened to tularemia.
"Oh! It's still around!" said this highly respected physician, almost
in yawn mode. "With the medications we have now, it is like having a cold."
Rabbit fever did not spring up like morels on a rainy, spring day. Nor
will it leave in this manner. It may be that CWD is just another disease
of wild things. It may also be that Mr. Darwin and his theory of natural
selection--survival of the fittest--is being applied again by nature.
We were, of course, concerned. But we didn't stop dining on fried rabbit
with hot biscuits, gravy and trimmin's in the late 1930. Nor is there any
reason to believe that roast venison back strap (with chunks of onion,
carrots and other veggies) is a menace to the public's health now, other
than the fact that it could cause some deaths by ecstasy.
It is good that wildlife agencies the length and breadth of the continent--including
our own--want to determine whether deer in their own bailiwicks are infected.
But what do you do if they are?
Now that CWD appears to have spread eastward from originating points
in the west, Hoosier deer hunters--like those in some other Midwestern
states--are concerned. It is good that we care.
But this is not the time for individuals or organizations to interfere
with the plan of our departments of Natural Resources, and Public Health
to address the situation.These agencies are operating on the thinking that
Indiana deer are clean . . . until proven otherwise.
The DNR's Division of Fish and Wildlife and the State Board of Animal
Health have worked up plans to take the heads of some 3,000 deer at some
80 points around the state, most during the firearms season. Of that number
of samples, roughly 1,000 will be analyzed at a federal laboratory. If
CWD is discovered, or if there appears to be other reasons for further
testing on a larger sample, it will be done.
One of my first thoughts on this sampling plan tended to minimize the
effort. Why not, I thought, allow deer hunter on a volunteer basis to submit
heads of their deer for study. More deer heads analyzed would improve the
chance of detecting CWD, I thought.
Those close to the plan say it is based on the notion that numbers of
deer analyzed is not so important at this time as distribution.
The idea is to get a good sample from widespread areas. It is likely
that the total sample will include more deer heads from some areas than
others, but once all samples (heads) have been collected (and preserved
in some manner, probably freezing), further testing can be done on samples
from any or all areas.
Although the entire collection program is based on hunters voluntarily
making the heads of deer available, there is no plan for blanket acceptance
of heads of all deer presented at collection sites.
If a hunter bags a deer that appears physically abnormal, it would be
good to point this out to those checking deer. The coat of an animal or
the feathers of a bird often are good indicators of physical welfare. Movement
(or the lack thereof)--especially in unstressed situations--is another