In recent reports, Yellowstone National Park has been grappling with a concerning issue—Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), commonly known as ‘Zombie Deer Disease.’ This contagious and fatal illness affects cervids, a group of animals including deer, elk, caribou, reindeer, and moose.
The Independent has confirmed a case of this peculiar disease in an adult mule deer buck found near Yellowstone Lake, raising alarms among wildlife officials.
The unfortunate deer, originally part of a population study in Cody, Wyoming, succumbed to the disease in mid-October 2023. Thanks to a GPS collar placed on the animal, officials were able to pinpoint the time of its demise. Following this discovery, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), in collaboration with Yellowstone staff, located the carcass on the Promontory—a landmass dividing the South and Southeast arms of Yellowstone Lake. Samples were collected for testing, and the results were conclusive: the deer had fallen victim to CWD.
Chronic Wasting Disease, caused by a malformed protein known as a prion, triggers physiological and behavioral changes in affected animals, leading to emaciation and eventual death. The disease spreads through direct animal-to-animal contact or indirectly via contact with infectious particles in the environment, such as feces, soil, or vegetation. Contaminated feed or pasture can also transmit the prions responsible for CWD.
As of now, CWD has been reported in 31 states across the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that symptoms in deer may take over a year to manifest, starting with drastic weight loss, stumbling, and a loss of energy. Unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccine for CWD at present.
Recognizing the signs of Zombie Deer Disease is crucial for wildlife officials and observers alike:
- Weight loss
- Increased drinking and urinating
- Excessive drooling
- Head lowering
- Loss of coordination
Despite its devastating impact on wildlife, CWD is not known to infect humans or domestic animals. The US National Park Service emphasizes, “There is currently no evidence that CWD can infect humans or domestic animal species. However, it is recommended that tissues from CWD-infected animals not be consumed.”
While the focus is on wildlife, some studies suggest that chronic wasting disease may pose a risk to monkeys that consume infected animal meat or come in contact with infected animal brains or bodily fluids. This underscores the importance of ongoing research and vigilance to better understand and address the potential implications of CWD beyond the affected cervid population.