AMES, Iowa — As Iowans prepare for the upcoming deer gun season, which begins Dec. 5, they have the chance to practice social distancing while also considering the benefits that social distancing has for deer.
At the same time humans are battling the COVID-19 pandemic, deer in some parts of Iowa are battling a health issue of their own, known as Chronic Wasting Disease.
Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurological disease affecting members of the deer family and is fatal to deer. It is currently known to occur in wild deer in eight Iowa counties and measures to prevent its spread are critical.
Adam Janke, assistant professor in natural resources ecology and management and extension wildlife specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, says there are important similarities and differences – but one thing in common is that both humans and deer benefit from keeping their distance.
“The most likely transmission route of CWD is direct deer-to-deer contact — the deer not maintaining a safe physical distance,” said Janke, who recently wrote a news article and produced an educational video on how hunters can remove the lymph nodes of deer for CWD testing.
Like humans, controlling the social activity and gathering nature of deer is difficult, but achievable. One way humans can control deer behavior is discouraging deer from gathering around introduced food or mineral sources.
Iowans should heed the advice of wildlife biologists and not feed deer for any reason because deer that are fed by humans tend to pack together in groups.
Another option popular this time of year is hunting. A wide variety of bow and gun seasons are available to Iowa deer hunters to help keep deer population densities lower.
A final tool for managing CWD is limiting the extent to which deer are moved – dead or alive. Hunters should avoid moving deer carcasses from the place of harvest, or if the carcass must be moved, the remnants should be properly disposed of in landfills.
In a video called “Collecting Lymph Nodes for Chronic Wasting Disease Testing,” Janke gives step-by-step advice on how to find, remove and document lymph node samples for state officials to test.
Testing is an important part of detection and can be done through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in collaboration with the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
According to Janke, hunters and non-hunters alike play an important part in controlling CWD.
“Just like COVID-19, solving CWD comes down to the collective impact of individual decisions. Everyone has an important role to play in ensuring that white-tailed deer populations remain healthy and safe,” he said. “To do that, we must all help deer by changing our behaviors and ensuring deer maintain physical distance, avoid large gatherings, and stay home.”
— Adam Janke, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
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