Taxidermists, vets test deer for disease

Posted: October 31, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Biologists have collected thousands of samples from deer and elk since chronic wasting disease was discovered in Arkansas in February 2016.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is offering a way for hunters to have their deer tested at participating taxidermists and veterinarians.

The agency’s main focus is on the area of the state where it knows the disease exists and determining the outer edge of its spread, said Cory Gray, manager of the agency’s Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division. Gray said Game and Fish has received calls from hunters in all parts of the state who want to know if their deer has chronic wasting disease.

“We do have a few more options in place for that to happen this year,” he said.

Gray and Jenn Ballard, the commission’s veterinarian, reached out to taxidermists to collect samples last year from hunters turning in heads for mounts.

“Most deer turned in to taxidermists are going to be older age-class bucks, which typically have the highest prevalence of CWD of any segment of the population,” Gray said. “So this was a good source for us to look for the disease throughout other portions of the state.”

Taxidermists have agreed this year to take a sample taken from any deer, young or old, buck or doe, Gray said.

“Participating veterinarians may charge a fee to pull a sample, but we’ve worked out a system with the taxidermists on the list to pull samples free of charge to the hunter,” he said.

Chronic wasting disease remains concentrated in a limited area of Northwest Arkansas, but whether it is more or less prevalent than last year is unknown, agency officials said last month.

After 2,615 voluntary tests of deer and elk during the 2016-2017 hunting season across the state, only seven counties shared in the 87 positive results, according to the agency. Those counties were Newton, Searcy, Boone, Carroll, Pope, Madison and Marion. Of those 87 positive results, 86 were whitetailed deer and one was an elk.

Chronic wasting disease is a degenerative brain disease most commonly found in the deer family. It is transmitted through contact, bodily fluids, soil and plants, among other means.

Hunters going to taxidermists or veterinarians should call ahead for the shop’s hours. If the location is closed, hunters should preserve the sample by placing the head with 3 to 4 inches of the neck attached in a cooler with ice. The head also may be frozen, but should be allowed to thaw before presenting it to the person taking the sample.

Heads and samples from deer taken in the 11-county disease management zone must stay within the zone, so hunters interested in having their deer tested should plan ahead to find which sample site best fits their needs.

The agency plans to man 17 free testing stations on the opening weekend of modern gun deer season, Gray said.

Hunters will receive a card with a test sample number and a web address to see sample results once they’ve been processed, Gray said. “Results should be available within two or three weeks of the sample being collected.”

Hunters submitting any samples that turn up positive will be notified immediately. Biologists will work with them to collect and dispose of any meat from the infected animal and reinstate their game tag if possible. Research has not proven humans can contract the disease through the consumption of infected meat, but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says meat from infected deer should not be eaten.

Visit www.agfc.com/cwd for more information on chronic wasting disease and testing locations.