Chronic wasting disease of cervids: Surveillance program and analysis results

Québec’s wild white-tailed deer under observation

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) must be detected quickly to maximize the chances of eradicating it and limiting its spread.

Since 2007 the Gouvernement du Québec has been operating a wild deer surveillance program. From 2007 to 2017, the program was focused on the regions of Estrie and Montérégie and based on a network of butchers providing samples taken from white-tailed deer harvested by hunters. More than 9,300 wild white-tailed deer were analyzed during this period and no cases of CWD were detected.

In 2018 the program was ramped up after cases of CWD were found in a Laurentides deer farm. Surveillance activities were expanded to other administrative regions in which high-density deer populations and the presence of cervid farms may increase the risk of the disease being introduced or spread.

2018 surveillance review and highlights

In 2018 the surveillance network expanded from eight butchers in two administrative regions to more than 40 in seven regions, including Capitale-Nationale, Chaudière-Appalaches, and Centre-du-Québec. As a result, we were able to analyze 1,978 samples taken from white-tailed deer harvested by hunters.

Surveillance activities were intensified in sectors closer to the farm where CWD was detected. Throughout the hunting season, MFFP employees took samples from cervids (white-tailed deer and moose) at the five registration stations located within a 45 km radius of the contaminated farm. In all, 1,053 white-tailed deer were sampled at the registration stations, almost all of which (98%) were from the Laurentides and Outaouais regions. Of this number, 447 deer were harvested in the enhanced monitoring area (EMA), where it was compulsory for hunters to have their game analyzed. Thirty-two moose harvested by hunters in the Laurentides and Outaouais regions were also sampled at the registration stations.

White-tailed deer harvested by hunters in 2018 and analyzed for CWD at registration stations or butcher shops

Administrative region Number of white-tailed deer analyzed
Montérégie 814
Laurentides 681
Estrie 518
Outaouais 381
Chaudière-Appalaches 264
Centre-du-Québec 186
Capitale-Nationale 107
Autres régions 80
Total 3,031

Animals butchered by participating butchers were not analyzed systematically. Samples were taken only from deer over 12 months of age where the transportation tag was still attached to the animal’s head.

In the EMA, 24 white-tailed deer and one moose that appeared to be sick or were dead when found were also analyzed.

750 deer were killed during the MFFP’s intensive culling efforts in the fall of 2018. All the adults (534) were analyzed. Fawns were not analyzed because testing is usually unable to detect the disease in animals that have been infected for less than 12 months. These animals had to be removed from the environment as a preventive measure, because they could have been infected and spread CWD.

For further details, please see the Report on 2018 Operation to control and monitor chronic wasting disease in cervids .

2019 surveillance review and highlights

Enhanced monitoring area

In 2019 the MFFP continued its surveillance of CWD among wild white-tailed deer in the enhanced monitoring area (EMA). This surveillance is necessary to quickly detect an infected animal.

Any hunter who harvested a white-tailed deer over 12 months old in the EMA was legally required to have it analyzed. MFFP employees were present at the five registration stations within a 45 km radius of the infected farm to take samples. The results of the analyses could be found several weeks after sampling on the MFFP website. In all, 1,655 deer (246 of them fawns) were harvested by hunters in the EMA. Samples taken from 1,358 adult deer and 14 moose were analyzed and no cases of CWD were detected. Finally 51 deer could not be tested.

The MFFP also put special measures in place in the EMA for the 2019 hunting season. These measures were intended to reduce the density of the deer population in that sector. All segments of the deer population (males, females, and fawns) were allowed to be hunted in the EMA from September 21 to November 17, 2019, using any type of gear (rifle, muzzle-loading firearm, shotgun, bow, or crossbow).

The special measures for the 2019 hunting season were successful in reducing the deer population.

All went well in part due to the increased presence of wildlife protection and Sureté du Québec officers, but most importantly thanks to the excellent cooperation and civic engagement of local hunters.

Conclusion

So far no samples from any wild cervids have tested positive for the disease. This means that if the disease is present in the wild population, it does not affect many animals. These findings suggest that it is still possible to prevent the spread or establishment of the disease in Québec. We need to continue these intensive surveillance activities in sectors near the affected farm to quickly detect any animal that becomes contaminated. Maintaining a low-density deer population in these sectors is also important to reduce contact between animals and thereby decrease the risks of spreading the disease if any animals do contract it.

Sample analysis results

The MFFP has received the analysis results for all samples taken from animals harvested by hunting in 2019, both in the EMA and outside of it. No positive cases have been identified.

CWD surveillance in 2020

The surveillance measures for the 2020 season will be communicated as soon as possible.
If you see a cervid with one or more of the clinical signs of CWD, call SOS Braconnage at 1-800-463-2191.

Reports

Useful links