Wednesdays announcement of Chronic Wasting Disease documented in a white-tailed deer harvested in the Winkler area has hunters feeling nervous. However, this case is the anomaly as to what's been documented thus far.
First discovered in the 1960s, CWD has been detected in the majority of US states and numerous Canadian provinces. Manitoba has been monitoring wild cervids for the disease since 1997 and announced its first confirmed case of CWD in November 2021 on the Man-Sask border. Since then, there have been a total of 26 cases identified in Manitoba, including 22 mule deer and now 4 white-tailed deer.
This latest case, a female white-tailed deer, was identified by a biological sample submitted by a hunter from the Winkler area. This new detection is in an area of Manitoba with no previous detections. Until this time, positive cases have occurred only in two distinct and localized areas along Manitoba's western border.
Senior Policy Advisor for the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, Chris Heald, says it is concerning to see a positive case of CWD farther away from the original two spots along the southwest edge of Manitoba, but it's not unexpected.
"This deer was harvested very close to the North Dakota border," explains Heald. "North Dakota has a lot higher prevalence rate than Manitoba does, so I don't think it's unexpected. The questions are, 'Did that deer come in from North Dakota? Did it walk in from western Manitoba?' You know, there's lots of questions to ask."
"I don't think we're seeing a pile of deer coming out from that area," he continues. "I know the biologists are going back and reviewing the data from the area in hunter-submitted samples. So, I know it is a concern, but I don't think it is a dire situation by any means."
CWD is an incurable, fatal disease that affects members of the deer family (cervids) including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, and caribou. Animals infected with CWD may appear healthy until the later stages of the disease. If the disease spreads and becomes endemic to Manitoba, there is a serious risk that CWD will threaten the health of all cervid populations in the province.
In Saskatchewan they're seeing CWD prevalence rates as high as 77 per cent in mule deer, but that province still allows baiting, and they did not take the progressive action Manitoba did to stop the spread of the disease.
According to the Province of Saskatchewan website, the South Saskatchewan River Valley has some of the highest CWD prevalence rates in the world. Mule deer in this area have prevalence rates ranging up to 77 per cent in males and 55 per cent in females. In the same area, white-tailed deer have prevalence rates of 25 per cent in males and 17 per cent in females. Four of the seven CWD cases in Saskatchewan moose and elk occurred in areas of the province where CWD is highly prevalent in deer populations. The remaining three cases occurred in the southern boreal region of SK.
So, in that it's important to note that Manitoba does not have a significant population of mule deer, the primary carriers of CWD, as our neighbors to the west, and our Province has taken the threat to the spread of CWD from the west, very seriously.
"Manitoba took that progressive action and took those mule deer [hunting] seasons and the hunters were out there and harvested a lot of mule deer. And we're not seeing that spread. So, it's still isolated to those two areas of western Manitoba, and now we're seeing this one case in Winkler, and we don't know. Is it prevalent in Winkler? Not very likely. But more sampling is needed," says Heald.
Testing time of harvested samples used to take 4-5 months to receive sample results in Manitoba. Now hunters receive sample test results closer to 6 weeks.
It's important for hunters to continue harvesting and providing samples to the Province, says Heald. "And we don't want to see hunters quit either, because they're scared of eating a CWD infected deer. The testing is in a lot better place, yes you have to wait awhile to get your results back, but they are making efficiencies in that program."
Samples increased by 600 per cent last year, and the province has added more staff with more efficiencies at the testing lab.
CWD is not known as a human health risk but meat from a CWD-infected animal is not recommended for consumption. Hunters who are active in areas where CWD is a concern should get harvested animals tested, practice safe carcass-handling protocols and avoid consumption of any animal that has tested positive for CWD.