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The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks said chronic wasting disease has been confirmed in the carcass of a 2-1/2-year-old whitetail buck in Bennett County, the first such report of the brain disease in the county.

PIERRE | Samples collected from the carcass of a sick deer found south of Martin have confirmed the animal to be in the late stages of chronic wasting disease.

According to South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks officials, this is the first confirmed case of CWD in free-ranging deer or elk in Bennett County.

“The whitetail buck was approximately 2-1/2 years old,” said GFP wildlife biologist Steve Griffin, in a GF&P release. “The emaciated condition of the carcass indicates this deer probably had the disease for a while.”

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease of deer, elk and moose caused by an abnormal protein called a prion.

The pathogenic prion is believed to be spread from diseased animals to healthy ones through direct animal to animal contact and/or contamination of feed or water sources with body fluids, saliva, urine and feces.

Animals in the later stages of infection with CWD may show progressive loss of weight and body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, loss of muscle control with eventual death.

Chronic wasting disease is always fatal for the afflicted animal. The disease cannot be diagnosed by observation of physical symptoms because many big game diseases affect animals in similar ways.

The disease was first documented in free-roaming wildlife in a white-tailed deer in Fall River County in southwest South Dakota in November 2001.

According to the GF&P, 20 years of testing and surveillance of wild deer and elk have found 203 CWD positive deer and 194 CWD positive elk out of more than 27,000 deer and elk tested.

Prior to the latest report from Bennett County, the disease had been detected in free-roaming wildlife in Lawrence, Pennington, Custer and Fall River counties, along with Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park.

The Game, Fish and Parks Commission recently created regulations for the transportation and disposal of deer and elk carcasses from other states and from hunting units within South Dakota’s confirmed CWD areas.

The new regulations, which can be found at gfp.sd.gov/news/detail/1299/, will not go into effect until 2020.

“With the discovery of CWD in Bennett County, we encourage hunters to contact GFP if they have concerns with any deer they harvest,” Griffin said. “We will do our best to test deer if hunters have worries, especially if they have harvested deer in and around the areas where CWD is present.”

For more information on CWD and to determine if a deer should be tested, go to gfp.sd.gov/chronic-wasting-disease.

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