Pathologists confident CWD not cause of deer die-off in north Alabama breeding facility, virus …

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deer-ms-sportsman.jpgDeer breeding facilities such as the one near Boaz where more than 50 animals have died over the past two weeks from what pathologists believe is a viral infection can legally supply animals in state to commercial hunting operations and other breeding facilities. (Photo/Clemson Cooperative Extension Service)

Preliminary tests have revealed that the contributing cause of death of more than 50 whitetail deer at a breeding facility in north Alabama is viral in nature, according to an Alabama conservation department news release.


Pathologists with the state’s Department of Agriculture and Industries are conducting further testing, Kevin Dodd, the state’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Chief Enforcement Officer, said Tuesday afternoon.


“Pathologists have assured us that it’s not something to be too worried about. At this point, they’ve been able to determine more of what it isn’t than what it is,” Dodd said.


Much to the relief of everyone involved in the investigation, Dodd said pathologists are confident that the cause of death does not appear to be chronic wasting disease, an always-fatal neurological disorder of the brain that affects cervids such as deer, cows and goats.


Variants of similar fatal abnormal proteins in the brain have been transferred to humans. Mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are two such CWD variants in humans.


Dodd said tests on brain tissues from the dead deer to confirm that CWD is not the cause will take several weeks to complete. Despite years of trying, scientists still have not developed a test for CWD that is effective on live animals. There is no none cure.


He said one of his officers reported that two more animals died Tuesday. According to the facility’s inspection papers, Dodd said the facility had an inventory of 130 animals in March.


ADAI and USDA pathologists are also confident that since the die-off began in May, it has been limited to this single breeding facility, which is located near Boaz.


Still, Dodd is asking the public to report any sick deer around that northeast Alabama city and surrounding areas of Marshall and DeKalb counties.


“We always want to know about sick animals anywhere in the state,” Dodd said, “but especially right now in those areas of Marshall and DeKalb counties we are asking people to report anything suspicious outside of a deer that has been hit on the highway.”


Whatever virus is killing the deer is indiscriminant, Dodd said. The facility owner told him that bucks, does and yearlings of all ages have all succumbed.


“One day the deer are healthy and eating and the next they’re dead as a hammer,” Dodd said. “Many of the deer have been pregnant does, which is devastating for the future of the business. The owner told me those deer were his kids’ college fund. I really feel for him. He did everything he was supposed to do and reported the die-off to us like he’s supposed to.”


Attempts to reach State Veterinarian Tony Frazier were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.


Earlier this year, the facility passed a routine herd inspection, which is conducted twice annually as part of a joint monitoring program between the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and the ADAI. Breeding facilities are required by law to report any animal deaths.


“Artificial conditions such as the penning of multiple species together like wild sheep and deer can spread pathogens that are normally restricted to one species,” Dodd said. “Although the deer in the affected facility were legally acquired in state, this incident demonstrates the potential outcome of introducing new diseases from areas outside the state.”


WFF Director Chuck Sykes said incidents such as this demonstrate the importance of the strict biosecurity measures Alabama keeps in place for its native wildlife and farm animals.


“Restricting the import or movement of potentially infected animals is a fundamental measure that was put in place to protect the health and safety of Alabama’s wildlife, livestock and citizens,” Sykes said.


Licensed game breeders in Alabama supply deer for stocking hunting enclosures across the state. These breeding facilities are subject to routine testing to minimize the introduction and spread of detrimental pathogens.


That routine monitoring of herd health led to the notification of the die-off at the north Alabama breeding facility. This resulted in the identification of the pathogens involved and a plan of action for the breeder was implemented.


Individuals with knowledge of illegally imported wildlife in Alabama including any species of deer, wild goats or feral pigs are encouraged to contact WFF via its toll-free GAMEWATCH line, 1-800-272-4263. Rewards for information leading to an arrest may be available.


If you encounter a sick or dead deer, please report the incident to the nearest WFF district office. To learn more about licensed game breeders and Alabama’s GAMEWATCH program, visit or call 1-334-242-3469.

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