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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal disease in the brain of wild and farmed cervids (elk, mule, deer, white-tailed deer and moose).
Alberta began CWD surveillance programs in the farmed and wild cervid populations in 1996. The programs for wild deer and elk are run by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP); Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) runs the surveillance of farmed deer and elk.
Surveillance of wild cervids
Alberta’s surveillance program assesses the presence or absence of CWD in free-ranging:
- mule deer
- white-tailed deer
The division works co-operatively with hunters, guides and local residents to achieve objectives such as:
- collecting and analyzing heads of wild deer and elk for evidence of CWD
- providing surveillance data necessary to assess the geographic distribution of CWD in wild populations
- co-ordinating with similar programs for farmed elk and deer
The surveillance program for wild cervids is based largely on submission of animal heads by hunters. Submission of deer heads from some areas (eastern Alberta from Cold Lake to the U.S. border) is mandatory.
Fish and Wildlife officers collect additional samples during disease control or routine field activities. Their testing targets emaciated:
Surveillance target areas
The wildlife surveillance program focuses on identified CWD risk areas, primarily:
- along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border
- around any confirmed CWD case in wild or farmed cervids in Alberta
Random targeted areas elsewhere in the province may be chosen for increased surveillance effort.
Communicating with hunters
AEP has a communications program to inform hunters of the need to submit heads of deer and elk they harvest. It reaches hunters through:
- Chronic Wasting Disease information for hunters
- My Wild Alberta website
- materials sent to outdoor magazines, newspaper and radio outlets, hunting-licence vendors and hunting organizations
- direct contact with Fish and Wildlife staff
- notices sent to draw-licence recipients
If you still have frozen deer heads that you would like to submit to the ongoing CWD surveillance program, please drop them off at any Fish and Wildlife office during regular office hours. For more details, see:
Testing for CWD
Laboratory tests involve microscopic and immunologic examination of a specific site in the animal’s lymph nodes and/or brain. The Alberta tests meet international standards for CWD diagnosis.
Lab tests on wild deer and elk are conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Results are reported to AEP’s Fish and Wildlife Division on an ongoing basis. Summary results are available at Chronic Wasting Disease Updates.
All hunters who submit deer heads for CWD surveillance will be informed of test results on their deer. A notification of positive cases is also posted on the Chronic Wasting Disease Updates page.
Response to positive cases
When CWD is found in the wild or if there is believed to be an increased risk, 3 primary tools may be applied:
- increased recreational harvest opportunities
- herd reduction programs
- increased public information and education
All programs are updated or revised based on field information and new research data.
Surveillance of farmed cervids
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) works closely with the farmed-cervid industry on surveillance programs. This includes mandatory examination of the heads of animals that die for any reason, including slaughter. The animals must be at least 1 year old.
Meat from slaughter animals is held until there are negative test results from the lab. Those results are forwarded to the slaughter plant.
Before any captive elk or deer can be imported into Alberta, there is stringent assessment of all disease risks, including CWD.
For more information and testing results, visit the Office of the Chief Veterinarian website at:
CWD became a federal reportable disease in 2001. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a national program of CWD surveillance and control in farmed cervids.