Young deer potential source of chronic wasting disease
EMPORIA — Last September, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks staff learned that a white-tailed fawn had been transported from Decatur County in northwest Kansas to the Hutchinson Zoo. Because deer from Decatur County have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), KDWP biologists had to work with zoo officials to euthanize and test the animal for the disease. This is another case of well-meaning people trying to "rescue" apparently abandoned animals, only leading to the animal's demise.

Fortunately, the sample in this case came back negative for CWD, but it could have been a disaster had it not. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer and elk. It causes a characteristic sponge-like degeneration of the brains of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions, and death. It is always fatal.

But the greatest danger in transporting these animals is that it will likely accelerate the spread of the disease to their new environment for a very long time. Attempts to decontaminate infected facilities have failed. For example, 20 years after captive mule deer were removed from an infected facility in Colorado, deer were returned to pens in the same spot and soon contracted CWD.

To prevent spreading CWD to wild deer in other parts of Kansas and to avoid contaminating facilities, KDWP has asked licensed wildlife rehabilitators to discontinue rehabilitating any orphaned or injured fawns. While some states have or will be making fawn rehabilitation illegal, KDWP is currently asking rehabilitators to cooperate voluntarily.

"We encourage the public to leave fawns in the wild," said Shane Hesting, wildlife disease coordinator for KDWP. "As we all know, in many cases, lone fawns are seldom 'orphaned'. The mother is usually nearby but out of sight, keeping watch. The risk of spreading such a dangerous disease should override the emotion of wanting to 'save' a fawn."

Wildlife officials are concerned about CWD’s potential impact on wild deer and elk populations. CWD was first identified as a clinical disease in captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967. It has since been detected in wild deer in 14 states, including Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. KDWP has been monitoring deer in Kansas since 1996 and first detected CWD in samples from wild deer in 2001. This past year, 11 deer were confirmed positive and four are currently presumptive positive, all from northwest Kansas.

Besides leaving young deer (and other animals) alone, anyone who sees a deer acting sick should immediately contact the nearest KDWP office or their local sheriff.