Wasting disease sneaks south



Chronic wasting disease has reared its head in southern New Mexico, 600 miles from any previously known outbreaks. In June, an emaciated mule deer discovered at White Sands Missile Range tested positive for the disease.

The state’s Department of Game and Fish was taken off guard by the discovery. Since 1999, officials have been on the lookout in the northern part of the state, expecting that the fatal deer and elk disease might slip into New Mexico from Colorado. They’d tested about 300 wild mule deer and elk, and encouraged New Mexico’s 19 elk ranchers to monitor their domestic herds.

Game and Fish officials are unsure how chronic wasting disease spread to southern New Mexico, but believe it can be contained within the small and geographically isolated mule deer population on the missile range. They plan to increase testing throughout the state, and will focus on roadkill and hunter-killed deer as well as sickly or nuisance animals. They also hope to test live deer by capturing them and removing pieces of tonsil tissue (HCN, 6/10/02: No magic bullet for wasting disease).

“We’re trying to find the training to do live (tonsil tissue) testing,” says Kerry Mower, an animal health specialist with the Game and Fish Department. “We don’t want to begin wholesale slaughter of deer in that area.”

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