Escaped deer are negative for CWD
A collective double sigh of relief went up from Pennsylvania deer hunters, deer farmers and state agencies as this issue of Pennsylvania Outdoor News was going to press.
Lab tests have found no chronic wasting disease in Pink 23 and Purple 4, escaped deer associated with the New Oxford, Adams County, farm that in October became the site of the state’s first two confirmed cases of CWD, an always fatal brain disease in deer, elk, moose and other cervids.
Pink 23, which was referred to in that manner because of her deer-farm ear tag, was the doe that escaped from a small captive herd of about a dozen deer on the Adams County deer farm in mid-October.
She was killed by a hunter on Nov. 26, the first day of the 2012 firearms hunting season for deer, on another small deer farm about a quarter mile from the site of her escape, after having lived in the wild since Oct. 18.
On Oct. 18 she broke through the fence of an enclosure, as staff from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and agents from the USDA’s Wildlife Services were attempting to kill the nine deer that still lived there.
Another doe had died in the enclosure on Oct. 4, becoming the state’s first confirmed case of CWD and launching the state’s multi-agency CWD response plan, which includes killing the deer from a herd where CWD has been confirmed and quarantining the site against all transportation of deer onto or off the site.
A second deer from that herd was later confirmed to have been infected with CWD.
The Department of Agriculture late on Dec. 11 issued a news release announcing that test results also found no CWD in Purple 4, a deer that originated on the Adams County farm and reportedly sometime over the summer escaped from an unlicensed deer farm in Huntingdon County.
That deer apparently was killed during the first week of the firearms season on deer, although the Department of Agriculture – responsible for all captive deer in Pennsylvania – did not release any details about it other than to report that tissue samples were being tested for CWD at the Pennsylvania State Veterinary Laboratory in Harrisburg.
Despite questions the previous week from members of the media following up on rumors that Purple 4 had been killed, the Department of Agriculture’s first public acknowledgment of Purple 4 came as part of its Dec. 6 news release to announce that CWD had not been found in Pink 23.
As the department has tracked the many interactions that deer from the original CWD site in Adams County had with other deer on deer farms across the state, the department has imposed quarantines on 24 farms in a dozen Pennsylvania counties.
CWD attacks the brains of infected antlered cervids, producing small lesions that eventually result in death.
Animals can get the disease through direct contact with saliva, feces and urine from infected animals.
There is no evidence that humans or livestock can get the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Department of Agriculture notes that surveillance for CWD has been ongoing in Pennsylvania since 1998 and that the department coordinates a mandatory monitoring program for more than 23,000 captive deer on 1,100 breeding farms, hobby farms and shooting preserves.
However, the unlicensed farm from which Purple 4 escaped was not part of that monitoring program and at least one other unlicensed, non-included farm appeared to surface at one of the public CWD meetings the department and the Pennsylvania Game Commission held in Adams and York counties in October.
The Game Commission, which is responsible for non-captive deer in Pennsylvania, since 1998 has tested more than 38,000 free-ranging, mostly hunter-killed deer and elk for the disease and all have tested negative.
The Game Commission has noted that even if no more CWD positives are found, it will need to continue monitoring in the 600-square-mile disease management area in Adams and York counties, around the farm where the first cases were confirmed, for at least five years.
And, if another case of CWD is confirmed, the clock starts fresh.