Exotic Wildlife Association
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Experts: Deer Wasting Disease Not Widespread

Amarillo Globe News
August 16, 2015 – 8:27pm
SAN ANTONIO – The recent euthanization of about three dozen deer in a South Texas ranch, where three bucks were found with a degenerative neurological disorder called chronic wasting disease, has raised concerns about the well-being of the $2.1 billion-a-year deer industry in Texas.

“Should you be concerned about chronic wasting disease? Yes, but don’t panic,” Walter Cook, clinical associate professor at Texas A&M University, told a large gathering at the annual state convention of the Texas Deer Association that ended on Saturday.

“All the evidence out there suggests that humans are not susceptible to chronic wasting disease,” Cook said. “And we clearly know that people have been eating deer and elk that have chronic wasting disease for decades.”

For instance, 10 years ago he ate elk meat even though he knew the animal had the disease, Cook said.

“I don’t think I am wasting away,” he said as he looked at and then put his hand on his belly. “However, there is a standing piece of advice that you never eat the meat of a diseased animal. That is probably a good piece of advice.”

Chronic wasting disease, often referred as CWD, has gotten more attention than usual since June when a buck was found with the disorder in Medina County, a rural county near San Antonio. A month later two more deer tested positive for the disease typified by weight loss that eventually kills the animal.

CWD, which was first discovered in Colorado in 1967 and only affects deer, elk and perhaps moose, is rare in Texas, Cook and other wildlife experts emphasize.

In Texas, the first case of the disease in a captive buck was discovered in July 2012.

“This is not an outbreak, this is not an epidemic,” said. Dee Ellis, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission. “Until six weeks ago, we didn’t have CWD in Texas.”

However, the state is addressing the issue to avoid the mistakes Wisconsin and other states have made over the years, experts and deer breeders say.

“We are making sure that what happened in those states is not duplicated here in Texas,” Hugo Berlanga, a deer breeder in Duval County in South Texas, said in an interview.

Berlanga served in the Texas House of Representatives for 20 years before going into the deer breeding business a decade ago.

His former colleagues in the Texas Legislature are also keeping an eye on the disease because they say the deer industry is vital to the economy of their districts and of the entire state.

The House Culture, Recreation & Tourism Committee, whose seven members include Lubbock Republican John Frullo, addressed the issue at a recent public hearing.

“I have a number of low-fence landowners and they are concerned that this disease could spread to the wild herd,” said state Rep. Drew Springer, who is not at a member of the committee but sat at the July 13 hearing at the invitation of panel chairman Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City.

“And I also have a large number of high-fence operations throughout the district that bring a bunch of money into the local economy,” said Springer, R-Muenster, who represents the largest rural district in the Texas House.

Like some of his colleagues, Springer said he is pleased with the state’s response to the reported CWD cases.

“I think the state is on top of it,” he said. “Nobody wants to see it get out control but we have seen drastic actions in states like Wisconsin where they tried to kill all deer in a 250 square mile (radius) … it is one of those things that we have to figure what’s the impact.”

State Rep. Four Price said he is confident the Animal Health Commission, as well as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, have taken the necessary steps to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease.

“They have a contingency plan in place,” Price, R-Amarillo, said. “They know how to quarantine animals.”

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said it is also important for the general public – not just breeders – to understand that CWD does not threaten humans.

“Outbreaks of CWD have occurred in 23 other states and was first identified in a wild mule deer in Texas in 2012,” he said. “There have not been any additional positive test results, but we are staying vigilant and working to keep the disease from spreading.”

Berlanga said while he is glad to see the state on top of the issue, like fellow breeders, he wants to make sure the three recent CWD cases in Medina County do not result in additional regulations for the deer breeding industry in Texas.

“These cases in the Medina County ranch were isolated incidents,” he said. Additional regulations could “stifle an industry that provides almost $1 billion to the Texas economy. We’ve got over 1,800 jobs that are attributable to our industry.”


Exotic Wildlife Association
Charly Seale, Executive Director

105 Henderson Branch Rd., West
Ingram, Texas 78025