In an effort to slow the flood of inaccurate information and often grossly misleading opinions about chronic wasting disease and the elk ranching industry, I submit to you this chronic wasting disease fact sheet.
Even after the facts are presented, fear of the impacts of chronic wasting disease will fuel the fire of negative opinion, but for those genuinely concerned about CWD as we are in the elk ranching business, I am sure you will agree that facts are what is needed, not misguided opinions.
CWD was first recognized by biologists in the 1960s in Division of Wildlife research facilities near Fort Collins, Kremmling, Meeker and Wheatland, Wyo.
Elk ranching was almost nonexistent in Colorado until the mid-1980s.
Wyoming has a high prevalence of CWD yet there is only one domestic elk ranch and it is a hunting facility with very little trading of animals.
As of March 1996, CWD had not been diagnosed in alternative livestock facilities in Colorado. The first diagnosed positive case was in September of 1999.
Colorado instituted a mandatory surveillance program for farmed elk in May of 1998.
Between May and October of 1991, 22 wild elk were traded to eight different commercial operators in exchange for red deer-elk hybrids. There is a possibility that these elk had been exposed to CWD at the Junction Butte facilities in Kremmling, which had previously housed mule deer infected with CWD.
All Colorado alternative livestock facilities are currently CWD free.
Every Colorado alternative livestock facility must submit to an annual inventory by the Colorado Brand Board, who manages the inventory database, and have an annual physical inventory inspection done by a brand inspector, along with an annual physical inspection of the facilities. All movement of animals in or out must be observed by a brand inspector and reported to the Brand Board. All sold and deceased animals must be inventoried and reported to the Brand Board. All domestic elk must be tattooed by Jan. 31 of the year following their births as a permanent means of identification so that there is a means of tracing forward and backward for any animal that tests positive for CWD.
The earliest clinical sign of CWD in deer is 18 months. The deer that were clinical at the Motherwell Ranch had only co-mingled with the domestic elk from September to January, five months. There have been more than 30 domestic elk herds submitted from the ranch from shooting operations last year and none tested positive. Clearly, the infection existed prior to the introduction of the domestic elk.
The elk that tested positive from the Longmont ranch did come from any CWD positive herds. The infection had to have occurred on site. They were born on site with no other positives in the herds. There is no scientific evidence that CWD has been transmitted to wild deer or elk from a game farm. However, it is documented that zoos, research facilities and game farms have been exposed to CWD from the wild in Colorado.
After four years of mandatory surveillance of the estimated 15,000 domestic elk in Colorado, the incident rate of infection from CWD is 0.29 percent. Only 44 of the 1,732 domestic elk from confirmed positive herds that were killed have tested positive for CWD, a prevalence of 2.5 percent.
The depopulation of the domestic herds in the Colorado endemic area began on April 29. Approximately 1,500 head in 16 herds will be depopulated. There is no scientific evidence that CWD is a threat to human health.
There is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted from deer and elk to cattle under natural conditions. The elk ranching industry supports ongoing research and dialogue on CWD. The Elk Research Council, an industry-funded entity, has spent more than $1 million on CWD research in the past five years.
Tom Cox is manager of the M&M Ranch in Routt County.