The Deerly Beloved

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Discover Nature Notes
Published Display Date
Oct 31, 2016

November is prime mating season for white-tailed deer. It's not too hard to see deer today, but around 100 years ago they were hard to spot.

From a recorded low of 400 in the early 20th century, there are around 1.2 million white-tails that roam Missouri today. They are one of our most valuable species for outdoor recreation, jobs and tourism.

Biologists today work with hunters and landowners to maintain healthy deer populations and manage threats from disease.

The biggest threat is Chronic Wasting Disease, which infects members of the deer family and is always fatal. Without management intervention, the disease grows in prevalence and spreads over time; once well established, it is impossible to eliminate. Over time, it can reduce deer numbers and impact hunting, wildlife watching, property values, and local and state economies.

This year's fall firearms deer season opening weekend will have mandatory testing in the 29-county "CWD Management Zone" to help protect our white-tailed deer.

Chronic Wasting Disease: A Closer Look

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal, neurological disease that affects members of the deer family such as white-tailed deer and elk in Missouri. CWD is caused by an abnormal protein, called a prion. The disease causes a degeneration of brain tissue, which slowly leads to death.

  • CWD has no vaccine or cure and is 100-percent fatal.
  • There is no evidence that humans can be infected with CWD. Research is ongoing to determine any public health impacts of the disease.
  • Deer infected with CWD do not always look sick. Symptoms include excessive salivation, drooping head/ears, tremors, emaciation, and change in behavior such as lack of fear of humans and lack of coordination. It can take months or years for a deer infected with CWD to show symptoms.
  • The disease is spread from deer-to-deer and through contact by deer with contaminated soil, food, and water. Infected deer can spread the disease while appearing healthy.
  • Chronic Wasting Disease was first detected in captive deer in Missouri in 2010 and 2011, in Linn and Macon counties. The disease was first detected in free-ranging deer in Macon County in 2012. To date, the disease has been detected in Adair, Cole, Franklin, Linn and Macon counties.
  • Once established in a deer population, CWD is difficult -- if not impossible -- to remove.

Discover more about Chronic Wasting Disease on the MDC's website.

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