SHERIDAN — A cow elk in southeast Washakie County has been diagnosed with chronic wasting disease by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
According to a press release, the elk was found in Elk Hunt Area 48. WGFD communications director Renny MacKay said the elk had been previously collared as part of the elk movement study that evaluated the migrations and behaviors of elk in the Bighorn Mountains.
MacKay said there have been cases of CWD in Wyoming for 30 years and the prion-based disease is found in ungulates like deer, elk and moose.
He said in other parts of the world it’s found in reindeer.
“We invest significantly in trying to deal with this disease and trying to figure out how best to manage it,” MacKay said.
“It’s now in many states and a couple provinces, so it’s something that people across the wildlife management world are concerned about and trying to work hard to find out what are the solutions to manage this disease.”
While MacKay said WGFD has been involved in studies that research the disease, and one that is researching a potential vaccine for it, there’s not yet a cure.
“The unfortunate thing is that there is no proven technique for reducing the prevalence rate of chronic wasting disease in a herd or a population, or creating any sort of immunity to the disease either, like through a vaccine,” MacKay said.
Sheridan WGFD wildlife management coordinator Dan Thiele said this is the first elk in Hunt Area 48 that’s tested positive for CWD, though he understands deer in the corresponding area have tested positive in the past.
The press release said its neighboring hunt area, 34, has previously had elk test positive for the disease.
Thiele said CWD has been documented in most deer hunt areas in the eastern part of the state but has a low prevalence rate in the Sheridan area, however, every year the disease progresses west.
“It seems like the disease has expanded from southeast Wyoming up this way,” Thiele said.
WGFD officials don’t know yet whether the disease has effected population levels in herds.
“You need to remember that every deer or elk that gets chronic wasting disease is going to die,” Thiele said. “So the prevalence rates down there are relatively high, so we’re losing some animals to that.”
Thiele also said it’s still unknown whether CWS will transmit from animals to humans, and with ongoing research the World Health Organization recommends not consuming meat from an animal that tests positive.
MacKay said the WGFD, WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that hunters submit animals they’ve harvested for testing. He said hunters should also be aware of carcass transporting regulations as each state has its own.
But hunters aren’t the only ones who can help; MacKay said anyone recreating can do his or her part.
“If they see any wildlife of any kind that looks sick, we do appreciate if they report that to their nearest Game and Fish office,” MacKay said.