The provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) and local Upper Columbia Valley conservation officers are cautioning B.C. hunters and the public to keep a wary eye out for signs of chronic wasting disease among deer, moose and elk, after biologists discovered an infected animal close to Edmonton.
The find was 30 kilometres southeast of the Alberta capital and is the furthest west, by at least 100 kilometres, the deadly disease has shown up in Canada. Authorities say the biggest risk for B.C. is residents heading across the provincial border for hunting trips and then inadvertently importing the disease back to B.C. in infected animals parts. A 2015 provincialMinistry of Environment report labelled the East Kootenay as one of the province’s highest risk zones for the disease.
“Right now the provincial government is really reminding people not to bring back bones or other materials,” said Invermere conservation officer Lawrence Umsonst. “We don’t want our healthy (deer, moose and elk) populations infected by this terrible disease. The mountains along the border (with Alberta) make a pretty good natural barrier and having infected animals bring it (chronic wasting disease) into B.C. naturally is not a big threat. But there is the possibility of hunters who are unaware bringing it in it. So the big thing is awareness.”
Chronic wasting disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, as is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), but unlike mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease cannot infect humans. Food inspections agencies, however,are still advising people not to eat the meat of animals infected with chronic wasting disease. The disease — which is always fatal — affects the central nervous system and sometime the peripheral nervous system of the animals it infects, leading to neurodegeneration.
In Canada, the disease is found in both wild and captive animals, but is geographically concentrated and so far found onlyin Saskatchewan and Alberta. Although it has not appeared any further west or east than that, wildlife health authorities inB.C., and in Manitoba are keen to keep things that way, and are stepping up efforts to monitor the disease and to raise awareness about it.
The disease also has a similar geographic concentration south of the border, where it is centred in Wyoming, Colorado,Utah, Nebraska and Kansas. There, however, unlike in Canada, chronic wasting disease has also managed to turn up in pockets of captive and wild animal populations far to the west, south and east of the initial geographic concentration — a result Canadian authorities do not want to see duplicated here.
According to biologists, the disease is transmitted through infected saliva, urine, feces and even soil. Symptoms of infection in deer include weight loss, drooling, poor co-ordination, stumbling and trembling. The ministry is asking anybody encountering a deer, elk or moose exhibiting these symptoms to report it to wildlife health officials, and is also asking hunters in the East Kootenay to help by donating deer, elk and moose heads for analysis at any B.C. Wildlife ConservationOfficer Service office (during business hours) or to Cliff’s Meat in Kimberley or to Rick’s Fine Meats in Cranbrook.
To report a sick or dead deer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.