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BSE Inquiry: Day 6 -- Mink and CWD misinformation
CWD -- spreading it around
CWD -- failed eradication attempts
CWD in Estes Park: what goes on at Lexington Lane?
14 facilities where CWD has been found
How did CWD get started and spread?
Elk growers ask for surveillance in N. Dakota
Ban on elk antlers in human food rejected
CWD in High Country News
CWD Web Resources

BSE Inquiry: Day 6 -- Mink, CWD, and Scrapie misinformation

BSE Inquiry 19 Mar 98 webmaster commentary

In late 1989, other than scrapie, all scientific reference for TSEs had been coming out of America: the kuru lab studies at NIH, the mink transmission work of Marsh, chronic wasting disease characterization by Williams, and scrapie-to-cattle transmission in Mission, Texas.

Day 6 of the Inquiry had the Tyrrell Committee selectively filtering facts to fit the mission of Saving the Herd via the newly hatched 'dead-end host' concept. TME and kuru were vastly less inconvenient than CWD and scrapie because there was 'absence of evidence' of transmission other than by outside food and cannabalism.

CWD was extremely awkward for the Tyrrell Committee because of overwhelming published evidence of horizontal transmission across numerous species under fairly natural conditions and the great difficulties with the CWD transmission eradication programs [see below]. Tyrrell had heard about the mule deer but had, as usual, not the vaguest idea of the facts. TME, like BSE, they assigned to sheep, flatly contradicting available data both then and now. Tyrrell tries to deny they knew about Stetsonville but Kimberlin corrects him, ironically contradicting their newly hatched scrapie theory in the same breath::

DR TYRRELL: "I mean, there was the mule deer and so on, which appears to be a mule deer disease not just transmitted from another species... And I do not think that, at that time, that we had seen the analysis of the outbreak of transmissible mink encephalopathy in the ranch that only fed cattle."

DR KIMBERLIN: .. It is the Stetsonville outbreak of 1985, which was published in March.

DR TYRRELL: I am not sure, did we know about it in 1989?

DR KIMBERLIN: Yes, we did .... One of the first things one thought of is: "Ah, this could be another TME type of story." ... We thought very much of scrapie as being the primary cause of TME outbreaks.

Nothing has changed in millenia: Jeremy Rifkin classic account 'Beyond Beef' documents Indus Valley cattle cults in direct lineage to contemporary Beefeater cultures: to save the tribe's herd, and thus for the greater economic good of the tribe, human sacrifice to appease cattle gods was required at critical times by the tribal elder councils.

CWD -- the middle years

19 Mar 98 Webmaster opinion
Early publications on chronic wasting disease from the 1982-1992 era are are not easily available at university libraries so I have typed up their best parts and made a few comments:

Spongiform encephalopathy of Rocky Mountain Elk
J. Wildlife Diseases 18(4) 465-471 1982
Williams ES and Young S

Spongiform encephalopathies in Cervidae
Rev. sci. tech. Off. int. Epiz 11(2), 551-567 1992
Williams ES and Young S

Highlights of the these articles:

A mule deer x white-tailed deer hybrid [Odocoileus hemionus hemionus x Odocoileus virginianus] was susceptible to CWD, with possibly bad implications for heterozygote transmission and low species barriers.

The affected black-tailed deer [Odocoileus hemionus columbianus] was captured as an adult in Oregon in the mid-1970's and became infected after two years somewhere in 1976-79. The disposition of any other black-tailed deer at the facility is unknown. It needs to be determined whether any were returned to the wild in Oregon.

The elk at Ft. Collins had sporadic fence-line contact with affected deer, sometimes were maintained in pens that previously contained CWD-affected deer, and had occasional contact with pronghorn, bighorn, moufflon, bighorn x moufflon, moose, black-buck antelope [Antilope cervicapra], mountain goat [Oreamnus americana] and domestic sheep and goats in separate pens. The elk generally occupied pens up to one hectare. CWD was first seen at the Colorado facility in 1967. The first two elk that succumbed were in 1979 in the very same pens that held the CWD mule deer.

It is said that these other species "have been in direct or indirect contact with affected deer or elk for at least two years". CWD has never been reported to transmit to the pronghorn, bighorn, moufflon, and domestic sheep and goats. Six cases of TSE in two separately maintained [zoo, zoo diet?] flocks of moufflon [Ovis musimon] are reported in Vet. Rec. 130 25-27 1992 by Wood JL et al. of the CVL, 'The natural occurrence of scrapie in moufflon'. The numbers, ages, and eventual disposition or cause of death of these species is nowhere described -- these government and university research facilities kept extremely haphazard records, in the early decades none at all.

The Ft. Collins facility had a bovine for 12 years that, per anecdote, never became affected. The Sybille facility held cattle on occasion for several years after CWD occurred but before it was recognized in 1980. No horizontal transmission to cattle (or sheep) has been documented.

"Cattle have grazed outside fencelines with opportunities for nose-to-nose contact with animals inside the facility. There has been no evidence of transmission to cattle, though management of range cattle in this area would make TSE hard to detect....Fence-line contact between captive and wild deer and elk is possible. Escapes of animals from affected herds into the wild have not been documented."

However pregnant mule deer were captured, held in the contaminated Ft. Collins facility until they fawned, and then were released back into the wild. Wyoming had reported two wild elk with CWD but no mule deer by 1992; the Ft. Collins area had both. "In the past, a few surplus deer and elk were returned to the wild, or given or traded to other facilities; these practices have been stopped" by 1992.

In 1997, Spraker et al observed that "it is possible that feeding of deer and elk by local residents in Estes Park and other developments may be a contributing factors. If this disease is transmitted horizontally, either by direct contact or environmental contamination then artificial feeding stations for wild cervids could be exacerbating the problem on a local level." It is not specified what the local residents are feeding. They believe CWD "may be a spillover of scrapie from domestic sheep" even though scrapie is low in NE Colorado and CWD has not been seen elsewhere in free-ranging cervids where scrapie is more common.

CWD is more prevalent in Estes Park than anywhere else. Area wildlife manager Rick Spowart said the disease seems to discriminate and is more prevalent in certain neighborhoods in Estes Park. Apparently, the Lexington Lane area has the highest prevalence of disease in Estes Park, Spowart said. According to Division veterinarian Mike Miller, of the 30 cases that have been reported in the 16 years of study, approximately 25 have emanated from the Estes Park vicinity. The reason for this is unknown. Spowart speculated that the spreading of the disease might be attributed to a disease-positive deer salivating on food left out by humans, and other deer ingesting the saliva of the diseased deer.

Hunting and fishing tags bring in $500 million a year to Colorado. Mike Miller, the DOW state veterinarian, commented that statewide testingcontinues to indicate that the disease is concentrated in the Fort Collins and Fort Morgan areas.

However both the Ft. Collins Dow and Wyoming Fish & Game facilities are apparently still operative. "Control of CWD is currently based on maintaining relatively low cervid populations and recognizing that CWD is an ongoing problem [PC, Thorne and Miller]."

"Eradication has been attempted [in an unspecified year in the 1982-86 period] at the Wyoming facility by killing all elk and deer in the main portion of the facility where CWD had been recognized , but not in outlying areas where CWD had not occurred. Disinfection of the facility and turning the soil where affected animals had been housed was not attempted. Deer and elk were not reintroduced for approximately a year.

The new animals had no contact with affected deer or elk; however, contact had previously occurred between affected deer and elk, and other ruminants (pronghorn, bighorns, and moose) which still remained on the premises. Subsequently, CWD occurred in newly introduced deer and elk, the first case occurring five years after the eradication attempt... The source of animals for restocking was wild deer and elk from a variety of [unspecified] locations where CWD had not been recognized. [Thorne]"

Not to be outdone by this half-assed effort, Miller killed all resident deer and elk at Fort Collins [in an unspecified year], but no other on-site ruminants, and buried them on site. The soil was turned and structures and pastures repeatedly sprayed with calcium hypochlorite [chlorine bleach] and the area kept free of cervids for a year.

Then 12 elk calves collected from the wild were hand-raised in a new rearing area, with evaporated milk of unspecified origin as the only protein feed. . It is not specified whether this new rearing area was within the old older pen, whether weaned calves were raised within the old pen, or what ruminants they had contact with. Two new cases of CWD were found at 3 and 4.5 years. The replacement calves were known by 1992 to have been collected from an area subsequently recognized to have had several cases of free-ranging CWD.

Two elk [Cervus elaphus nelsonii] were captured as adults in Wyoming in early 1978, the same year the Wyoming facility first reported CWD in mule deer. These later succumbed to CWD after 2 years of captivity at the Sybille Wildlife Research and Education Center near Wheatland, Wyoming. Feed in captivity can be ruled out: there was no animal protein of any type provided. These are the only 2 of 60 captive elk reported affected; the animals had only fence-line contact with other captive wild species such as mule deer unlike the elk at the Colorado facility. Sybille also had far less mule deer CWD than Ft. Collins.

Four newborn elk calves were hand-raised on cow's milk, vitamins, alfalfa, and grain at two separate Ft. Collins captive research facilities. One calf came from the Denver zoo in 1976, two came from the Sybille facility in 1976 born to resident dams and partly raised by them, and one was collected from the wild in 1975, as a "presumed orphan". Most affected animals were not related though some cases were seen in offspring of dams which subsequently developed the disease. CWD controls of 1982, all 39 negative: 15 captive elk aged 1-2 years, 2 captive adult bull elk, 22 wild cow elk ages 2-9.

"Little information is available on management of captive cervids at Ft. Collins prior to about 1974." Any protein feeding or confinement with cattle or scrapie sheep are unknown. The nutritional and metabolic research Ft. Collins facility was opened in the 1950's and first documented CWD clinically in 1967. Animal deaths were dismissed as simply resulting from stresses of confinement or nutritional deficiencies and there was no serious autopsies until 1978. The scrapie-like lesions were immediately noted and eventually published in the 1980 Williams JWD article.

From 1970 to 1981, 60 deer resident for two years or longer (90%) developed CWD at Ft. Collins. Other facilities had similar morbidities and mortalities though fewer absolute numbers and less aggregation of confined animals. The youngest was 18 months, the oldest 9 years, with 3-4 years more typical. There was no seasonal pattern or association with breeding season.

Deer seemed uniformly affected whether they were born to resident does and raised by dams, born to resident does and taken by dams at 2 days, born in captivity to wild does and taken by dams at 2 days, captured hand-raised wild neonates, presumed wild orphans raised for days or months elsewhere before coming to facilities, and deer from throughout Wyoming and Colorado captured as adults and brought to the facilities. Commercial lamb milk replacer was used from 1987 to 1992, prior to that some form of cow's milk was used.

It seems that there was quite a bit of traffic in surplus animals. Extensive movement occurred between two unnamed Colorado facilities, perhaps the two located in Ft. Collins. A small unnamed Colorado research facility received a deer that subsequently developed the disease and observed CWD in its other exposed deer within 18 months of importation. Sybille sent many animals to Ft. Collins but only a few moved the other way.

The small unnamed zoo in Wyoming with CWD in a single elk received as a hand-raised animal from Wheatland (Sybille). The Denver zoo [RC Cambre] received animals from Ft. Collins and sent these or offspring to the Toronto zoo. No details are given and the zoos are unnamed in these articles. The zoos made have fed rendered ruminant protein along the lines of what was done in UK zoos where BSE was transmitted to numerous ungulates.

Two additional captive wildlife research facilities in Colorado outside of Larimer County have experienced CWD: Kremmling in Grand County on the west side of the Continental Divide and Meeker in Rio Blanco County, an hour east of the Utah border in NW Colorado. I do not know whether fawns here were also acquired by temporary captivity of pregnant wild does or whether there has even been any testing for CWD in wild deer around these facilities.

Two Ft. Collins elk had small pieces of baling wire penetrating their fore-stomachs, associated with traumatic reticulitis and pericarditis. The pregnant elk was euthanized and a full-term calf removed that was still 'healthy' [brain microscopy only] at 2.5 years when it was killed for an unstated reason and its brain apparently discarded.

The authors see "significant impacts on wildlife facilities harboring infected animals, including direct loss of valuable animals and adverse effects on the research conducted at these facilities. The occurrence of disease has reduced options for handling surplus animals raised at these locations. Eradication attempts have failed .... The growth of game farming and game ranching as alternatives to traditional domestic animal agriculture indicate that CWD should be of concern in interstate and international trade in captive cervids."

They continue, "As many affected animals were hand-raised for research purposes, there was substantial monetary investment in each animal.... The economic impact of the introduction of CWD into the game farming industry could be very great and ... transmission of this disease from game farm animals into free-ranging conspecifics would also be a concern."

CWD has a clinical course that would make it next to impossible to recognize in the wild: nervousness or hyperexcitability, inconsistent changes in personality and behavior recognizable only by their handler, and progressive with loss leading to emaciation [seen seasonally in almost all wild deer]. Excessive thirst, urination, or scraping [polydypsia, polyuria, pruritis] were not seen. Elk showed excessive salivation, teeth-grinding, lowering of head and drooping of ears. Behavioral changes were consistently present but specific motor or sensory neurologic deficits could not be identified.

Though "diagnosis [of CWD] at necroscopy is not difficult", there are "difficulties in regard to adequate diagnostic evaluation in a timely manner, meaning that the severed head sits for some days in the back of a pickup truck and "the presence of large predators and scavengers which would kill and/or consume deer or elk showing clinical signs of CWD".

By 1992, CWD had been experimentally transmitted intra-cerebrally to mink, ferrets, squirrel monkeys, mule deer, and domestic goat, with incubation times of 19 months to mule deer and 6 years to goat. Transmission to mice and hamster had failed in iterated passages. No elk transmission studies had been done.

Where all has CWD been found?

18 Mar 98 webmaster

One of the oddest aspects of all the scientific papers on CWD is the tremendous reluctance to give the names, dates, locations, and operators of affected state fish and game and university facilities. This makes it very difficult to map where and when the disease has been seen to occur and whether there are independent foci of infection beyond Ft. Colliins/Wheatland. It is hard to believe that expert facilities do not maintain a permanent tracking record for the health and disposition of each and every individual animal. Given the failure of the two eradication schemes, this secrecy makes tracking and confinement of the disease all that much harder, which is in no one's best interest.

White blood cells, marrow, and peripheral neurons are known to be infectious (but low titre compared to CNS) in scrapie, BSE, TME, and CJD; no data is available on CWD titre by tissue type. Low titre means the disease would start amplifying but spongiform changes might be slow relative to normal life span, ie it dies of something else before becoming clinical. Animals can be highly infectious a year or more before displaying symptoms.

The following statement, while on the cautious side, is certainly consistent with current medical understanding of spongiform encephalopathies and the precautionary principle:

Val Geist, former head of the University of Calgary's environmental science department, said even the antlers are capable of carrying the disease because they contain neurological tissue including blood vessels and nerve endings. "If it (TSE) is somewhere in the tissue, I certainly wouldn't ingest any of the tissue."

There are now at least 5 known captive research facilities and at least 3 zoos and 5 game farms involved in CWD, all traceable if you want to shipments of animals out of Ft. Collins. These are:

1. Sybille Wildlife Research and Education Center, Visitor Center and Wildlife Viewing Sites - on Hwy. 34, about 28 miles SW from I25 exit south of Wheatland State of Wyoming - Game and Fish Department - Sybille Visitor Center 2362 Highway 34 Wheatland State WY 82201 Phone 307-322-2784 from 4

2. Kremmling. Colorado State University - Cooperative Extension - Grand County PO. Box 475 Kremmling State CO 80459 Phone 303-724-3436 from 1

3. Meeker. Colorado State University - Cooperative Extension - Rio Blanco County 779 Sulphur Creek Road, Box 270 City Meeker CO 81641 Phone 303-878-4093 from 1

4. Main Ft. Collins facility. State of Colorado - Division of Wildlife - Wildlife Research Center State of Colorado - Division of Wildlife - Wildlife Research Center 317 West Prospect City Fort Collins CO 80526 Phone 970-484-2836

5. Wild Animal Disease Center, CSU, Ft. Collins exchanging cervids with 4

6. Denver zoo receiving mule deer from 4

7. Toronto zoo receiving mule deer from 4

8. Wyoming zoo receiving mule deer from 1

9. South Dakota game farm receiving calf elk from 1 or 4 [?]

10. Regina, Saskatchewan game farm receiving South Dakota elk, 27 April, 1996 confirmation. from 9

11. 12 cases of CWD reported now from S. Dakota, at least 2 different herds, seemingly 3-4 game farms, from 1 and 4.

How did CWD get started?

17 Mar 98 webmaster opinion

My best guess as to what really happened:

in the early days of the Ft. Collins facility, before they went to wild animal diseases, they studied scrapie and other diseases in sheep. The facility became contaminated, just like the pasture in Iceland. They hoped it wouldn't cross the species barrier.

Then they brought in mule deer. These became infected. No post-mortems were done, no tissues were saved, no records were kept; one worker there in 1967 wrote me to say they suspected scrapie at the time. They hoped it would go away.

The facility became grossly contaminated, 90% of the animals dying. No autopsies were supposedly done until 13 years into the disease, even though this was a disease research facility. They hoped it would go away.

Deer infected elk and other cervids. They hoped it would go away.

Pre-clinical animals were shipped to Wyoming, zoos, game farms, and released back into the wild. Wild animals infected each other at winter feeding stations at much higher rates than anyone expected. They hoped it would go away.

Infected wild animals were brought into various facilities. No monitoring had been done on wild animals. They hoped it would go away.

Tens of thousands of hunters ate contaminated meat from venison pooled into sausage. They hoped hunters wouldn't get CJD.

Some hunters subsequently donated blood which were pooled into batches of 50,000 doses or more. They hoped medical recipients wouldn't get CJD.

CWD is not scrapie, though it was probably originally triggered by scrapie. It is a different prion, a different amino acid sequence, after initial passage. CWD is probably not caused or spread through rendered downer protein feed like BSE. Its properties in humans are entirely unknown, the symptoms might be quite different from known forms of CJD.

Dr. Valery Geist writes

Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science
University of Calgary
22 Mar 98

I did poduce once a detailed, closely referenced paper on Tb and TSE in cervids and bovids in relation to game farming, but my co-author lost nerve and the piece was not published. I then rescued as much as possible and put into a chapter of a book I edited with Ian McTaggart-Cowan in 1995, "Wildlife Conservation Policy", Detselig, Calgary, Alberta. This book won subsequently the book-of-the-year award of the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists. In this chapter (No. 3, the TSE part is on pp.104-106)

I detail why and how the basic policies adopted about 80 yearsa ago led to a successful system of wildlife conservation, plus what is currently undermining it. In my treatment of TSE I was able to profit from both, the German veterinary literature and German investigative reporting (the likes of which one does not see in current North American papers). It was clear from those sources that considerable danger existed from oral infections (while the investigative reporting showed what games ruthless were being played to save the British cattle industry).

As a specialist on deer biology one route of infection was clear: the bones of domestic sheep dying of scrapie on open pastures so common on US Forest Service, BML lands etc. would be an excellent source - particularly on pH neutral or acid pastures. Deer during antler growth in summer are starved for sources of calcium, phosphate, protein and energy (more so an acid than on basic pastures). They would undoubtedly chew on bones of dead sheep. That would get the required high dosage of infected tissue into the unfortunate deer and elk deer.

I do not expect cattle or bighorns or pronghorns to chew on sheep bones, and neither do I expect range related transmissions of TSE in these species. Not so for elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer - but also moose and caribou, if present. On a three day trip to a Wyoming bighorn range I promptly ran into the fresh cadaver of a domestic sheep that had died of natural causes on the open range.

I expected TSE to appear on commercial elk ranches after it had appeard in a Canadian zoo. When the Saskatchewan case was reported, it was claimed to be an anomaly by the Agriculture Canada PR spokesmen. Sorry to read that there are now, a year or so later, more TSE cases on game ranches. I am aware that TSE cases in free-living elk and deer in Colorado do coincide with range lands on which scrapie was recorded.

I am also aware of Tom Thorn's quip that TSE geographically matches the presence of TSE-interested veterinarians. I am also aware, keenly, that it is in no state's interest to research the presence of TSE in free-living cervids.

Yet, please check out Davanipour, Z. 1991. Epidemiology. pp. 131-152 In F. O. Bastian (ed.) "Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease and other Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies". Mosby Year Book, St. Louis, MO. for venison as a risk source for CJD.

CWD Web Resources




Rocky Mt Elk Foundation

NADeFA - North American Deer Farmers Assn

Cybercervus links
Editor Yasmin Hudson tel/fax: 1-403-449-5500

NAEBA -- North American Elk Breeders Association
Contact the NAEBA Offices at 816-431-3605, fax 816-431-2705

Supporters of CWD research through NAEBA:

... Black Hills Elk & Game Ranch
PO Box 27 Fairburn, SD 57738
Dave & Marguerite Reyelts, owners
(605) 255-4646 Fax (605) 255-465

... Cedar Creek Ranch

... Elk Haven Ranch

The six recognized subspecies of North American elk:

Cervus elaphus canadensis: Eastern Elk 

Cervus elaphus roosevelti: Roosevelt Elk

Cervus elaphus nannodes: Tule Elk 

Cervus elaphus nelsoni: Rocky Mountain Elk 

Cervus elaphus merriami: Merriam Elk

Cervus elaphus manitobensis - Manitoban Elk 

Elk bugle calls online

"A six month old bull calf recently sold for a record $81,000. Right now, 85% of Alberta's raw product is exported to Korea where the processing, marketing and distrubition is managed. The majority of end-users are Asians who consume the product as a nutriceutical and thanks to convincing health traditions - a dietary staple. They deem the anti-oxidental properties of the velvet to be effective in dealing with arthritis, liver and heart issues. As the primary purchaser of Canadian velvet, the Koreans are also in the position to set prices and even re-sell finished product back to North America."

Elk Growers ask for surveillance in N. Dakota

ND Department of Agriculture Press Release January 23, 1998 

BISMARCK - The North Dakota Elk Growers Association has asked the state veterinarian's office to implement a mandatory surveillance program for detecting chronic wasting disease (CWD) in their herds.The elk growers met Thursday in Mandan.

State Veterinarian Dr. Larry Schuler said the surveillance program will apply to all domestic elk and deer owners, and will go into effect in February.

"We want to assure both the public and livestock producers that there is no known danger to other species," said Lyle McLain, Mohall, president of the elk growers. "We will do everything we can do in working with the state veterinarian to be sure the disease does not come to North Dakota."

The group's request follows the report of two confirmed cases of CWD in South Dakota elk in 1997. Chronic wasting disease is known to affect only elk and deer. It is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) related to, but different from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the cause of the so-called "mad cow" disease in cattle, and from Creuzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. CWD was first detected in wild mule deer in Colorado in 1967. It has since been found in wild deer and elk in Colorado and southern Wyoming. It has never been detected in either wild or domestic animals in North Dakota.

Aside from the two cases in South Dakota and a single case in elk in Saskatchewan in 1996, all reported cases have involved wild animals. Schuler said the surveillance program will require that any death among domestic elk or deer must be reported immediately to the owner's veterinarian. The veterinarian will arrange for removal of the animal's brain which will be sent first to North Dakota State University and then to an approved lab for diagnostic analysis.

If the laboratory confirms a positive diagnosis for CWD, further action, including possible quarantines, will be determined by the North Dakota Board of Animal Health.

At the elk growers meeting, Dr. Michael Miller a wildlife veterinarian with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and a leading authority on CWD, spoke on the latest research on the disease. Dr. Earl Stoltenow, extension veterinarian with NDSU, Fargo, spoke on the symptoms and diagnosis of CWD, and Dr. Susan Keller, the deputy state veterinarian, spoke on other TSEs.

McLain said with the information the elk growers received at the meeting, "most of us won't wait until an animal dies before calling a veterinarian. If we think an animal has symptoms, we'll call the vet right away."MEDIA: For more information, please call Dr. Larry Schuler or Dr. Susan Keller at (701) 328-2654

Ban on elk antlers rejected

Press Clippings from the EdmontonJourna Ashley Geddes 27 April, 1996
"Mad Cow" disease confirmed in farm elk: An elk on a game farm near Regina, Saskatchewan had the equivalent of mad cow disease. It was slaughtered in January. Agriculture Canada has confirmed that the elk is the first game farm animal to be diagnosed in Canada or the U.S. With Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). That's the equivalent of mad cow disease in cattle.

It has been found in wild elk. Farmers raise elk for both their meat and their velvet antlers, the latter sold to Asian markets for folk medicines and aphrodisiacs. An Agriculture Canada official downplayed the risk of the disease spreading. That assurance didn't placate Dr. Valerius Geist, phone: (403)220-7430, former head of the University of Calgary's environmental science department.

Geist said warnings that game ranching would lead to the spread of dangeous diseases have gone unheeded by governments at both the federal and provincial levels. The disease is "very quickly transmissible" and the entire game ranching industry is stocked with elk captured in the wild, Geist said. "The public is again having to pay for the game-ranching lunacy" fumed Geist.

Widespread slaughter of British cattle followed when mad cow disease was linked to 10 cases of Creuztfeld-Jacob disease in humans. Mad cow disease was identified in Alberta in 1993 after a Red Deer rancher imported a cow from England. The rancher's herd was slaughtered.

The Saskatchewan elk was imported from South Dakota prior to a Canadian importation ban on elk introduced in 1990, following a tuberculosis outbreak on Alberta game farms. It was slaughtered in January after showing "nervous signs."

A Wyoming laboratory specialist confirmed the animal had the disease. Dr. George Luterbach, of Agriculture Canada, said 23 other "at risk" elk on the game farm have been quarantined and could be slaughtered......the risk of the disease spreading from the game farm is "almost non-existent." The farm is almost 2 kilometres from the nearest neighbor. "There is no such thing as zero risk," said Luterbach. "But I think the risk is well-managed in this case."

More than $16 million was paid in compensation to game ranch operators when elk herds were slaughtered because of the Alberta tb outbreak. Darrel Rowledge of the Alliance for Public Wildlife said the case shows the need for game ranching to be subject to environmental and economic impact reviews. "There's enormous risk," he said.

Diseased elk pose 'little risk' to public

Gordon Kent The Edmonton Journaland Jeff Adams Calgary Herald Edmonton Journal 28 April 1996
Powdered antlers sold for medicinal purposes, but no infection of humans reported. Elk antlers, which at least one expert warns are capable of carrying a version of the deadly mad cow disease, are being sold to Alberta consumers for medicinal purposes. But an Ag. Canada scientist says there's no evidence that the disease that killed an elk on a Saskatchewan game farm can be passed to cattle or humans.

Dr. George Luterbach, Ag. Canada's program manager of animal health for Saskatchewan and Manitoba, said the elk died in January of chronic wasting disease, or Transmissible Spongiform Encephatopathy (TSE). While it's one of a group of ailments related to mad cow disease, it isn't the same as the sickness infecting herds in Great Britain, Luterbach said.

"Despite studies in the US since 1967, there's never been a case of it spreading to cattle." And in the 30 years that researchers have been working with it, "nobody has ever gotten sick from it."

The small ranch near Regina where the elk was kept has been isolated. Twenty-three other elk on the ranch will be destroyed. Premier Ralph Klein said Saturday he'll discuss the case with his Agriculture and environment ministers, but he expects federal and provincial regulations are adequate.

I'm sure that whatever we have in place is deemed to be proper in terms of identifying any kind of disease and taking the appropriate action." Alberta Agriculture Minister Walter Paszkowski said the province does not allow elk imports from either Saskatchewan or the US. Canada's border was closed to elk and deer imports in 1990 to stop the spread of tuberculosis.

"No elk on Alberta ranches are being slaughtered for human consumption. They're being used to produce antlers".

Val Geist, former head of the University of Calgary's environmental science department, said even the antlers are capable of carrying the disease because they contain neurological tissue including blood vessels and nerve endings. "If it (TSE) is somewhere in the tissue, I certainly wouldn't ingest any of the tissue," he said.

But Russell Lakusta, whose Edmonton-area company buys elk antlers and processes them into pellets, wafers or liquid for resale to consumers, insisted any trace of disease would be destroyed when the antlers are dried at his processing plant. There are 250 elk ranches and a total of 9,000 domesticated elk in Alberta.

Geist has repeatedly asked the Alberta government to review the province's game ranching industry to ensure it poses no threat to wildlife or humans. Klein has never implemented such a review despite promising one in late 1992. Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who called for a similar review nationally when he was opposition leader in 1993, has yet to implement one.

John Carson, the president of the Alberta Venison Council and a Sherwood Park game rancher, said the animals are raised for breeding rather than meat. Carson said he's concerned the industry could be hurt by media references to mad cow disease. "Negative publicity which showed up on the fron page of The Journal today could have a negative effect."

Meanwhile, about 60 people attended a Saturday workshop in Priddis, wouthwest of Calgary aimed at luring more investors into Alberta's already booming game ranching industry. They were told that many consumers are convinced the antlers can cure everything from arthritis to infertility.

Lakust told the gathering that one-third of his revenue comes from sales in Canada, including Alberta. The rest of his sales are to the Orient, where a widespread belief in the curative power of deer and elk antlers dates back 2,000 years. A large rack of antlers in the Orient can fetch $4,300.

Elk Antler Sales Ban Rejected

 Ashley Geddes and Paul Drohan Calgary Herald and Journal StaffEdmonton Journal, 30 April, 1996

The Alberta Government is rejecting a call by wildlife protection groups for a moratorium on the sale of elk antlers to ensure a controversial disease isn't spread. Premier Ralph Klein and Agriculture Minister Walter Paszkowski say there's no reason to believe there's any risk to Alberta game farms in the wake of confirmation that a game farm elk in Saskatchewan contracted a disease related to mad cow disease.

"Certainly we will monitor this situation," said Klein, alluding to the revelation that a Saskatchewan elk has been identified as the first North American game farm animal to contract Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy, which causes mad cow disease in cattle.

"But elk ranching under the (Alberta) Farm Diversification Act is up and running, and has been for some time in this province with very few problems, at least few problems since the last outbreak of tuberculosis" which occurred in 1990, Klein added.

The Opposition Liberals asked if the government had checked the records of every elk imported into the province from the South Dakota area where the Saskatchewan elk came from originally. Paszkowski said all 40 elk imported from the same U.S. herd were destroyed when the TB epidemic in game farm elk hit Alberta. There has been a ban on importation of elk from the U.S. since 1990.

He said that game farm animals are "far safer" than wild animals because of the close monitoring. Klein disputed claims by Alliance for Public Wildlife spokesperson Darrel Rowledge, who says the premier hasn't followed through on a 1992 committment to conduct a review of game ranching in the province. Klein promised "a thorough and public assessment" of game farms in a letter to Rowledge in December 1992.

Rowledge rejects safety reasurrances from the federal and provincial governments and the game farming industry. "Ask them where they get that information. Where are the tests? They have never been done." Animals can only be tested for TSE after they are dead.

Wilf Jurek, vice-president of the Canadian Venison Council which represents game farmers, noted the 23 other elk on the Saskatchewan game farm are quarantined and Agriculture Canada has the situation "very well contained." Jurke said there's no evidence the disease can be transmitted from elk to cattle or humans.

Rudy Jurek, of the Saskatchewan Game Farmers's Association, said at a press conference Monday in Lloydminster. "The disease is totally under control."

CWD in High Country News

Chris Carrel 16 Mar 98 pg 5 in High Country News
News to me was South Dakota. They have now got a dozen cases in captive elk. The source herd included animals from the Colorado-Wyoming infection zone as well as some from Canada, according to Sam Holland, South Dakota's state vet. South Dakota is starting up a surveillance program for wild deer and elk, as are 7 other states under a 'modest' APHIS program. Contact for Dr. Sam D. Holland: Animal Industry Board 411 S. Fort St. Pierre, SD 57501-4503 (605) 773-3321.

The home page for the North American Elk Breeders association. shows a high level of trade in elk,with bloodlines available from elk ranchers across the U.S. and Canada. The North American Deer Farmers (NADeFA) are active marketing meat to restaurants and supermarkets.

Gibbs is quoted as saying a five percent infection incidence is "a staggeringly figure. That should be sufficient stimulus for people to get off their suitcases and try to figure our where it's coming from."

Beth Williams describes the animals as having its head down, its ears flattened instead of up. "It would have a spacy look in its eyes. It would be able to see you but wouldn't care very much." The disease destroys the animals's coordination leaving it unable to stand.

"Often the actual cause of death turns out to be pneumonia," says Wiolliams. "I wouldn't be surprised if many are finished off by coyotes." [Colorado shot the last of its wolves in the 1950's as a rancher subsidy.]

Randall Cutlip with ARS in Ames, Iowa says laboratory transmission test results are at least 18 months away.

Tom Thorne, veteran at the Sybille, Wyoming research facility is more concerned about lower deer populations and fewer hunting opportunities. Wyoming has yet to issue health recommendations for deer and elkk hunters as "the risk is so small, I wouldn't worry about it as at all." CWD was apparently spread out of Thorne's facility into wild elk some years back.

Colorado state epidemiologist John Pape says "the evidence suggests [CWD] is not [transmissible to humans]." Does this means he is waiting for an upsurge of reported CJD in hunters before getting concerned? He may not be aware of the long incubation period, the apparent recent surge in CWD cases, the mixing of hundreds of pooled deer in sausage, the uncertainty of the symptoms of deer-CJD in humans, rumors of successful transmission in vitro to humans, and documented lack of a reliable baseline of true CJD incidence.

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