Chronic Wasting Disease Found in Park

November 18, 2002

Tom Farrell, 605/745-1130

Superintendent Linda L. Stoll announced today that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been found in a single elk in the park. Park staff recently discovered a five-year-old elk exhibiting symptoms of the disease. The elk was killed and brain tissue samples were analyzed at the Colorado State University Diagnostic Lab in Fort Collins, which confirmed the diagnoses. The park is consulting with national and state wildlife experts concerning this outbreak.

CWD is a fatal condition affecting the animal’s brain and central nervous system. Related to mad cow disease, CWD is believed to only affect cervids, including deer and elk, and it is thought to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion that attacks the animal’s brain tissue. Symptoms include the loss of body condition and weight, excessive salivation, ataxia, and behavioral changes. How the disease is transmitted is unknown, although direct contact between infected and non-infected animals via saliva, urine, and feces is considered the most likely route of transmission. At this time, there is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans.

It is unknown where the elk became infected with CWD. In 1997, CWD was found in a captive elk herd adjacent to the park’s southern boundary. A deer near Oral and an elk near Fairburn both tested positive for the disease within the last year. The elk found in Wind Cave National Park was believed to be part of the Gobbler Knob sub-Herd, located in the southern part of the park.

Last summer, the park received $279,000 to conduct a multi-year study to learn about deer movement patterns, density levels within the park, and to test for CWD. This study is being conducted in cooperation with South Dakota State University in Brookings and South Dakota Game Fish and Parks. The study is scheduled to begin this February.

Superintendent Stoll said, “We are concerned about the threat this disease poses to area deer and elk herds, and we’ll be coordinating with the State of South Dakota to use our upcoming study to learn more about the occurrence of this disease.”

This was the tenth elk or deer from the park tested since March of 1998. All previous tissue samples returned negative for CWD. Along with expanding the type of surveillance that found the diseased animal, the park intends to increase the number of deer involved in the research that is beginning this winter. Information collected in the park will then be combined with data gathered by South Dakota Game Fish and Parks to determine the need for further action.

Last updated: July 19, 2017

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