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Prevent the Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease

By: Kyle Grammatica

As we continue to fight Covid-19, wildlife experts in Florida are continuing actions to prevent the spread of a disease affecting North America’s deer: chronic wasting disease (CWD).

CWD is a progressive, neurological, and fatal disease that affects mule deer, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, sika deer, North American elk, and moose. It is believed to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. CWD causes excessive salivation, grinding of teeth, increased drinking and urination, dramatic weight loss, poor hair coat, and head tremors. Infected animals also develop strange behaviors, including decreased interaction with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression, walking in circles, staggering, and standing with a wide stance. Infected deer can appear healthy for a while, but symptoms begin to show within one and a half to three years of contracting the disease.

Luckily, CWD has not yet been found in Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is taking steps to prevent it from entering by prohibiting the import of deer harvested outside of Florida. Under the July 2021 rule change, hunters may only import de-boned meat, finished taxidermy mounts, and clean hides, antlers, skulls, and teeth if all soft tissue has been removed. Whole carcasses may not be imported into the state. These rules apply to all animals of the deer family including deer, elk, moose, and caribou. The sole exception to this rule is deer harvested from a property in Georgia or Alabama that is bisected by the Florida state line and under the same ownership.

Hunters are asked to report sick or malnourished deer to the CWD hotline at (866)-CWD-WATCH. You can also help by submitting your deer heads to FWC for CWD testing. Learn more by calling the hotline. Currently, there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans under natural circumstances, but hunters are advised not to eat meat from diseased deer and take precautions when handling them.

How does the rule change help protect deer?

CWD is spread through direct animal-to-animal contact as well as through contact with saliva, urine, feces, blood, and carcass parts of an infected animal. It can even be spread through soil that has been contaminated with infected carcasses or any of the above fluids. By limiting the import of deer carcasses and high-risk deer parts, the potential for infection and spread is lowered. It’s important to take these steps and ensure Florida remains CWD-free since once it becomes established in a natural population, control is extremely difficult.

We have given over $235,000 to survey Florida deer for CWD and spread awareness of the disease. Help us protect our deer population and their habitat by purchasing our deer plate now!

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