Deer hunters in Northwestern Ontario can help monitor for the presence of a fatal disease that affects the animals.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a brain disease that affects members of the deer family (i.e., deer, moose, elk, and potentially caribou).
The disease has never been found in wild animals in Ontario.
“Protecting Ontario’s wildlife is important to Ontarians, whether for recreation, tourism, or to conserve our biodiversity,” said Chris Davies, manager of wildlife research and development for the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“Chronic wasting disease has the potential to devastate wildlife populations. We want to keep it out of Ontario,” he stressed.
Since 2002, the MNR has tested more than 7,000 deer from throughout their range in the province.
All tests were negative for the disease.
“Hunters play a key role in our surveillance work,” Davies noted. “We couldn’t do our research without their support and co-operation.”
MNR researchers obtain deer tissue for testing in two ways. For instance, they seek out hunters with harvested deer by driving through popular deer hunting areas.
Research crews will remove a small amount of tissue from the deer’s head on the spot.
They also set up central freezer depots to collect tissue.
Hunters are asked to bring the heads of yearling or older deer to one of the depots as soon as possible–preferably within a few days of being harvested.
Depots in this area include the MNR office in Fort Frances, which is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m-4 p.m. (closed on holidays).
Others are located at Cloverleaf Grocery in Emo and Nestor Falls Bait & Tackle in Nestor Falls.
Most depots will accept deer heads until mid-December (the cut-off date in Nestor Falls is Nov. 26).
Call ahead if dropping off a deer head in December, however, as depots will close early if quotas are reached before mid-December.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first identified in captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967, and in wild elk in Colorado in 1981.
It has since been detected in deer in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and 18 American states, and in wild moose in Colorado and Wyoming.
States and provinces where the disease has been found have been unable to eradicate it.
CWD appears to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. It’s related to mad cow disease, but affects different animals.
While there’s no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans or domestic livestock, caution is advised.
As a precaution, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and World Health Organization advise people not to consume animals known to be infected or that appear sick.