As deer populations continue to climb, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) concerns rise.
CWD is a debilitating illness caused by prion proteins. Once deer, moose, or pronghorn ingest a contaminated plant, they exhibit dementia-like symptoms. Slowly, they begin to waste away, becoming skinnier as it degenerates brain tissue.
Iga Stasiak, a wildlife health specialist with the Ministry of Environment, is familiar with the disease, as it affects nearly 50 per cent of male mule deer in the province.
"And about a third of our female mule deer," added Stasiak. "Obviously, this is concerning for us as the disease does impact populations, and we know that animals do succumb to infection after a few years. It has been a problem in the province, and we're continuing to monitor and look at various management options to try to control the spread."
CWD was first detected in Saskatchewan in the 2000s. As the years have gone on, its continued spread has led to the Ministry of Environment opening drop-off locations for hunters to drop off their samples to test for the disease.
These drop-off locations can be found online.
"There have been no cases in livestock or pets, and there have been no reported cases in humans," shared Stasiak. "As a precaution, it is recommended that people do not eat animals that are known to be infected, and that's because there's a lot we don't understand about prion diseases."
In the winter, these deer can be even more noticeable as populations congregate near and in towns in order to access the food found within parks and yards. The winter conditions combined with their already malnourished condition can make them especially obvious. Just like with any deer, moose, or pronghorn, folks should avoid approaching the animals, even with intentions to help.
"We do not have any plans for culling," Stasiak said. "We do continue to monitor the population to ensure we have a balance and populations that are acceptable. We are looking at potentially adjusting the quotas. Based on... ...if we do see an overpopulation problem, those are adjusted."