Keeping disease in check

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The safety of a species once again lies in the efforts of the hunter.

Humans themselves are a unique species in the biological chain of the living. While nature mostly works on a balancing act in which predator and prey find an equilibrium, humans cultivate both plant and animal to suit the needs for food and shelter.

Too many predators in a given environment? Nature enforces its rule through famine, disease or sprawl. If the predators kill too much of their prey, the starvation comes in. From the starvation, the predators search for new prey, or in a weakened state, they become more susceptible to disease, reducing the numbers of predators, allowing the prey to increase in numbers again.

Too much prey? Again, nature takes over. The proliferation of prey causes famine and disease as well as an attraction for more predators.

Sometimes nature swings the pendulum from one extreme to the other, and it seems there is a constant state of flux, but that is the way it works.

Humans, we have the ability to grow what we need and control the environment of the living in a more even manner than nature does. While we also are one of the few species that kill for sport, even our sport serves a purpose in most cases, especially over the last century.

As for diseases, one of the worst ones involving North America’s most popular big game animal, Chronic Wasting Disease, brings game and wildlife agencies to an immediate alert. Many states, such as North Carolina, prohibit bringing back certain body parts from hunted game in states that have been found to harbor CWD as a result.

Arkansas was recently found to have CWD infected elk, of which, one case was less than 10 miles from the Missouri border. CWD infects all the antlered species and runs a 100 percent fatality rate. It can be passed directly from deer-to-deer contact, contact with bodily fluids and even indirectly through a protein shed by an infected deer.

Missouri has not escaped the presence of CWD, though. There have been 42 cases since 2010, with the first showing up at a deer farm in 2010 and the first free ranging deer showing infection in 2012. The ease in which the disease can be transmitted, which cannot be detected until death or late stage symptoms, is one reason many states prohibit deer and elk farms. Mostly, Missouri has done a good job of confining the areas of the disease outbreak despite the introduction into its herds.

How can they manage the disease from spreading wildly and quickly? Through programs such as what is going on currently in Missouri. All taken deer within a 25-county area near the border where the infected elk was found are being tested through the state wildlife agency. If a deer happens to be found to be diseased, the hunter will be contacted for some follow-up questions, and the state hopes to confine the area and allow the biologists to change harvest totals accordingly. Yes, this means making the numbers and length of season increase in order to wipe the disease out if possible.

Initially, it has been stated that the consumption of a diseased deer was safe for humans, and no person has been affected by CWD after eating a diseased animal. However, a recent test by the Center for Disease Control has found that a species of monkey closely related to humans can contract the disease.

To add to the importance of localizing diseased deer and eradicating them before further spread, the testing results may take up to six weeks to return, and for hunters who do not see symptoms in the taken deer and eat the meat, this could be a problem.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.