Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is one of the most feared of diseases that affect North American wildlife; in particular, the species most at risk are caribou, deer, elk, and moose. It is a prion disease that is similar to Mad Cow disease in cows and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. And now it appears it has been found in the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The National Elk Refuge was created in 1912 to provide a sanctuary and feeding location for elk through the bitterly cold Wyoming winters. Homesteaders and others had previously found thousands of dead elk each Spring after snowmelt, and the Refuge was established to preserve the remaining herd.
This month (December 2020) a cow elk killed by a hunter was found to have CWD . The always-fatal disease may now be spreading among the elk in the refuge and could spread to populations of wild wapiti and deer in the Spring. Beyond the devastation of the big-game population of the Greater Yellowstone is the question whether the disease could spread to humans who consume the tainted meat or are exposed to urine or feces from diseased animals.
And yet, in spite of what’s known and what’s feared, economic considerations may prevail among politically-connected hunting guides that rely on the concentration of herds for their customers and local farmers that believe feeding the elk prevents them from contaminating their cattle herds with brucellosis (a bacterial infection).
The best approach is elusive and debatable. What’s not debatable is the reality that human action always leads to unintended (and unanticipated) consequences.
You can read more here.