Deer: new book, related articles, research on CWD

This topic was initiated with reading an article in The Atlantic, Dec. 30, 2023, titled, An Incurable Disease is Coming for Deer: It rots their brains, weakens their muscles, and can linger in the environment for years”, by Erik Howsare. What was (is) the disease? Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD. As noted in the article, “Ubiquitous deer may be, but in CWD, they face a serious threat. From its first appearance in Colorado in the late 1960s, CWD has crawled steadily across the country. It is now found in more than 30 states and multiple Canadian provinces.” More on this in a few paragraphs below.
This article (The Atlantic) was actually an excerpt from Howsare’s book, which I just completed reading, The Age of Deer: Trouble and Kinship with Our Wild Neighbors (Erika Howsare, 2024) (link here to read more at [https://books.catapult.co/books/the-age-of-deer/](https://The Age of Deer)). I highly recommend people associated with iNaturalist to read the book because it presents an interdisciplinary look at the contradictory presence of Deer in our lives. For many people, Deer represent have a plethora of meanings in human interactions. As many here can relate in the Forum, perhaps you have had the unfortunate DVC event (Deer-Vehicle Collision), or find that your garden or shrubs wiped out, or that you have watched videos of Your Tube about people taking in orphaned fawns, or rescuing Deer from traps, or in frozen ponds/lakes, or just simply to watch Deer slip in and out the forest into our backyards, or see large herds across the landscape.
I did a quick look and noted that there are 316, 292 observations of Deer for the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska) (iNaturalist - https://www.inaturalist.org/observationsplace_id=1&subview=map&taxon_id=42158&view=species) and 13 species recognized. And of that number of observations, 175, 882 were for White-tailed Deer, 90,341 were for Mule Deer, 26, 136 for Elk, and 15, 952 for Moose (these are the top four categories of species of the 13 total).
Back to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and Deer. About the same time I am finishing Howsare’s book and writing this for the Forum, I noted yet another article (interesting timing!) in The Atlantic, titled, “Deer Are Beta-Testing a Nightmare Disease: Prion diseases are poorly understood, and this one is devastating.” Feb. 1, 2024 by Katherine Wu.

And this is the challenging part. Prions? What could go wrong? Plenty.

If you wish to know more, check out these research articles:
Denkers ND, Hoover CE, Davenport KA, Henderson DM, McNulty EE, Nalls AV, Mathiason CK, Hoover EA. Very low oral exposure to prions of brain or saliva origin can transmit chronic wasting disease. PLoS One. 2020 Aug 20;15(8):e0237410. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0237410. Erratum in: PLoS One. 2021 Jun 10;16(6):e0253356. PMID: 32817706; PMCID: PMC7446902.

Inzalaco HN, Bravo-Risi F, Morales R, Walsh DP, Storm DJ, Pedersen JA, Turner WC, Lichtenberg SS. Ticks harbor and excrete chronic wasting disease prions. Sci Rep. 2023 May 15;13(1):7838. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-34308-3. PMID: 37188858; PMCID: PMC10185559.

Scott D. Wright

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Interesting topic. One tangential thought is that, since CWD is a prion disease, and the pathogen isn’t living (or even viral), it can’t be observed as a taxon on iNat itself. Its presence could be noticed in an observation field, though I couldn’t find one for this.

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I was taught about CWD a few years ago in a biology class I had. Certainly an interesting disease. Unfortunately, the teacher got all this information from well, google… Therefore, this left me and my classmates with a bunch of misinformation about CWD in deer. This brought a lot of interest back to me on this topic, so I’ll definitely have to try this book out!

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