CWD Update: Fatal Deer Disease a Worldwide Problem

Chronic wasting disease has been found in wild reindeer in Norway, the first known cases in the Scandinavian country. (Credit: Norwegian Institute for Nature Research )

If you believe chronic wasting disease only affects North American cervids (deer, elk and moose), you’d be wrong. While 24 states and three Canadian provinces have confirmed cases of CWD in deer and/or elk, the insidious neurological condition also has been found in South Korea and Norway.

At the 2017 CWD Symposium in Michigan, Saraya Tavornpanich of the Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI) discussed the Scandinavian country’s attempts to control CWD. The disease was first found in March 2016 in a reindeer in the Nordfjella Mountains of southern Norway.

“During a GPS monitoring project, we found one free-ranging adult female reindeer stricken with CWD,” Tavornpanich explained. “It was the first case of CWD ever found in Europe.”

So far, CWD testing has identified six wild reindeer with the disease. Norwegian officials don’t have a clue how the animals contracted CWD, but they estimate about 1-1.5 percent of reindeer in the Nordfjella Mountain region, home to Europe’s last remaining wild reindeer population, have CWD.

The Norwegian government will soon cull the entire population to try to prevent reindeer from spreading the disease to moose, red deer, roe deer and fallow deer in the country. Experts believe the chances of achieving successful eradication of CWD will largely depend on how long the disease has been present in Norway.

“The region is a relatively isolated area,” added Tavornpanich. “Currently it is hunting season, and hunters are being permitted to shoot as many reindeer as they want. After the season ends, we will exterminate 2,000-2,500 reindeer. In five years, we will reintroduce wild reindeer into the region.”

Speaking of moose, two moose have also tested CWD-positive in Norway. In May 2016, a local hunter found the moose near the town of Selbu. Officials don’t believe the cases of CWD in moose and reindeer are connected, because the CWD-positive moose have a different type of prions than the CWD-positive reindeer.

D&DH contributor and Michigan resident Darren Warner is providing updates from the CWD Symposium, held Oct. 3-6 in East Lansing, Mich. It was hosted by the Michigan departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture and Rural Development, and featured top deer researchers from across the country. To find other reports here on the site, search for “CWD Updates.”