Fatal Brain Disease Spotted In Yellowstone National Park

Officials at Yellowstone National Park say they have discovered evidence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the carcass of a dead deer. The deer was recovered from the Promontory region of the park, which separates the south and southeast arms of Yellowstone Lake. The buck was tagged with a GPS collar in March this year as part of a population study, and the collar alerted authorities that the animal had died.

Having obtained the body for examination, scientists confirmed the presence of CWD and said several repeat tests were conducted for verification. The condition is known as “zombie deer disease” due to some of the animals’ disturbing symptoms, and this is the first time it has appeared in Yellowstone.

Zombie deer disease is highly contagious and affects deer, elk, caribou, reindeer, and moose. No cure or treatment is yet available, and symptoms include weight loss, stumbling, head lowering, drooling, and listlessness. Given its potential to spread, experts say it is almost impossible to contain once it has broken out.

CWD spreads even without direct touch between affected animals and is transmissible through shared contact with inanimate objects or an affected environment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged hunters not to shoot animals who exhibit CWD symptoms, to test for the disease before eating meat, and to prevent household items from touching the carcass.

The CDC states that CWD was first identified in captive deer in Colorado in the 1960s and in wild deer in 1981. Instances have since been found in 31 states across all regions of the US. “Once CWD is established in an area, the risk can remain for a long time in the environment. The affected areas are likely to continue to expand,” the agency warned, adding that between 10% and 25% of animals would likely be affected in an outbreak.

Nebraska has the highest figures for CWD cases in recent decades, followed by Wisconsin, Missouri, and Montana.