By Cheryl Conley

You don’t have to get too far out of the city to see white-tailed deer. They are highly adaptable and are thriving in most of the suburbs around Houston. I realize everyone’s idea of beauty is different but I believe most people think deer are beautiful. For me they represent gentleness. If you’ve ever seen a close-up photo of a deer face, you’ll notice the beautiful eyes and long eyelashes. They are among the most graceful of all hoofed animals. Even though I see them every day in my neighborhood, I still feel in awe when I see them. They give me a sense of peace.

Sadly, there is a disease that threatens many of our hoofed species including North American elk or Wapiti, red deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, white-tailed deer, Sika deer, reindeer, and moose. It’s called Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD. It’s a neurological disease and is fatal. It was first recognized in captive mule deer in 1967 in Colorado and has since spread to captive and free-range deer in 30 states, in Canada, Finland, Norway and South Korea. It is believed to be caused by prions which are misfolded proteins that disrupt the nervous system of the host.There is no known vaccination or treatment for it.  Scientists aren’t sure how the disease is spread but believe it’s spread through exposure to contaminated body fluids or tissue, or through food or drinking water. Once exposed, it may take years before the animal shows signs of the disease.

So what are the signs of the disease? The deer experiences drastic weight loss or wasting. You may see them stumble, have drooping ears and appear listless. They may drool, experience excessive thirst or urination and have a lack of fear of people. Based on these symptoms, it is still hard to diagnose the disease since these symptoms are also present in other diseases. To get a definitive diagnosis, laboratory testing is required.

State agencies in Texas are very concerned about the disease and how it could affect the $2.2 billion hunting industry. With no vaccination and no treatment, it could easily get out of control. CWD has been found in 7 areas of Texas and hunters in those areas are required to bring their animals to a CWD check station within 48 hours of harvest. The areas are within Kimble County, the Trans-Pecos area, South Central Texas, the Panhandle, Van Verde County, Hunt County and Lubbock County. Here is a link to help you determine the exact locations in the areas of concern.

Hunters need to remember that it takes a long time before symptoms appear in the deer. The deer may look normal but could be carrying the disease. That’s why it’s a requirement to get the animal checked.

As new cases are discovered, more zones may be added.  A hunter who is outside a CWD zone and wishes to have an animal tested for CWD should contact a wildlife biologist. Here’s a link to help you locate one.

Researchers have found no evidence that CWD poses a risk to humans or domestic animals.

If you see a deer in your neighborhood or park and suspect that it may have CWD, you should report this to the nearest Texas Parks and Wildlife, Wildlife Division or Law Enforcement Division office immediately. You can call this Austin toll free number if you need help finding the numbers. (800) 792-1112 and enter 5 for wildlife and 1 for general wildlife. Make sure to document the location and take photos if possible. If you’re a hunter, make sure you become familiar with information about CWD as well as practical tips you can use in the field to help prevent the spread of CWD. Here are two helpful links:

Whether you’re a hunter or not, let’s hope that this disease is kept under control so we can continue to enjoy the deer that populate the area.