Deer harvesting may cause mad cow disease


Freshman undecided major Danielle Benoy first heard about deer harvesting after her family received a letter about Chronic Wasting Disease at their home in Belvidere.

“At first, I was shocked and didn’t quite believe it,” Benoy said. “I thought maybe it was a joke. I had never heard of deer harvesting before.”

The letter was not a joke. Like Belvidere, DeKalb’s deer are hunted from late fall to winter each year in order to regulate population and reduce the amount of deer infected with CWD, said Stacey Solano, Illinois Department of Natural Resources communication manager.

Paul Shelton, DNR forest and wildlife program manager, said CWD is part of a group of diseases that includes mad cow disease.

“CWD is a contagious, neurological disease that has been found in the deer family,” Shelton said. “It is caused by infected prions, proteins that [humans] and other animals have in their bodies.”

The disease progresses very slowly and causes brain cells to die over time. Although it may take a couple years for the disease to reach its full potential, an infected deer cannot recover.

“There’s no cure,” Shelton said. “No treatment. Once a deer gets it, it is fatal. It’s kind of a sure, slow, certain death.”

Shelton added that deer with the disease have symptoms including a loss of fear of humans, a malnourished appearance and a lack of control over bodily functions.

According to the DNR’s official Web site, hunters are allowed to harvest deer during the CWD season with handguns, shotguns and muzzleloaders.

Andrew Page, senior director of the Wildlife Abuse Campaign with the Humane Society of the United States, said hunting is the problem not the solution.

“The spread of this disease is fueled by game hunting,” Page said.

Page said the best way to get rid of this disease is to outlaw captive hunting ranches. He said the high concentration of animals in these farms has fueled the spread of CWD. Animals inside and outside the fence of these farms can have nose to nose contact and spread the disease from inside the ranch to the wild.

Research as to whether humans are able to contract the disease is inconclusive at this time.

“At this point in time, we can’t say definitively that humans can get [CWD],” Shelton said.

As for now, Solano said the DNR is working its hardest to keep CWD cases to a minimum.

“It’s something we have our eye on and try to control it as best as we can,” Solano said.

Northern Star City Editor Kevin Kovanich contributed to this article.