On September 14th, the Government of Quebec announced the discovery of the province's first known case of chronic wasting disease. The disease is a progressive and fatal degenerative disease of the nervous system of cervids, which include mule deer, elk, and moose. There is currently no direct scientific evidence that CWD is transmitted to humans but it can have a major impact on hunting, recreation, and First Nations culture. The Quebec case was found in a farmed deer so it is important to control it within those populations as well.
CWD was first diagnosed in Colorado in 1967, the first Canadian case was in Saskatchewan in 1996, and it is routinely found in Alberta, particularly in mule deer. The deer can be captured, collared, and counted, and dead mule deer can be examined to see if they carry chronic wasting disease. Their movements can be tracked across rugged terrain into mule deer grasslands, and with all this information wildlife researchers can start to develop management strategies to slow the spread of CWD.
That means field work, and we sent freelance broadcaster Don Hill out with 2 young researchers from the University of Alberta to find out more about what it takes to get this field work done. But neither research nor story ideas always go as planned and on this trip not a deer was to be found in the area close to the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. There were plenty of ATV's in the neighbourhood however, which just may account for absence of the deer.
No sense wasting a walk in the country, so we have this entry in what some researchers refer to as the 'Journal of Unpublished Results' as we find out what goes into tracking deer across grasslands in the interests of CWD research.
Thanks to Evelyn Merrill's lab at the University of Alberta for letting us tag along for the day!