Chronic Wasting Disease and Taxidermy

chronic wasting diseaseI don’t mean to scare you to death about chronic wasting disease, but as taxidermists, you owe it to yourself to be aware of CWD – what it is, what it looks like, what it can do, its risks, its realities to both animals and humans, and how you can help prevent the spread of this deadly disease.

Like any potential epidemic, one needs to govern their actions with common sense. Basically, take CWD seriously, but don’t freak out about it.


What Exactly IS
Chronic Wasting Disease?

Chronic wasting disease is basically a cousin of mad cow disease. How that affects you as a taxidermist is this: If you mount deer or elk , you will be handling the meat, bones and brains of that animal as you remove the antlers.

According the the Center of Disease Control (CDC) website, Chronic Wasting Disease is:

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), or prion disease, along with other animal diseases, such as scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The only known natural hosts for CWD are deer (Odocoileus species) and Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni).

CWD and other TSEs are believed to be caused by a pathogenic effect on neurons of an abnormal isoform of a host-encoded glycoprotein, the prion protein. The pathogenic form of this protein appears to be devoid of nucleic acids and supports its own amplification in the host. TSEs in animals primarily occur by transmitting the etiologic agent within a species, either naturally or through domestic husbandry practices.

In contrast, most such encephalopathies in humans occur as a sporadic disease with no identifiable source of infection or as a familial disease linked with mutations of the prion protein gene. A notable exception among the human TSEs is the variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which is believed to have resulted from the foodborne transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to humans.

Since that was pretty much Greek, we’ll cut to the chase here and quote the web site about it (

“(CWD is)…A mysterious brain disease closely related to mad cow disease. Chronic wasting disease, AKA CWD, bores holes in the brains of deer and elk. They slobber, stagger, shake, stumble and salivate. Then they waste away and die.

Chronic wasting disease has afflicted deer and elk in Colorado and Wyoming for decades. Within the past five years, it apparently jumped 1,000 miles east to Wisconsin, home to The Why Files, 600,000 deer hunters and about as many white-tailed deer.

Many observers consider the outbreak a horrific threat to deer, and perhaps other animals. “If we leave it alone, it will expand its range,” says Judd Aiken of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It will no longer be a problem just in Wisconsin, but also in Illinois.

“If we do nothing, you will have CWD-infected animals, with very high levels of infectivity. This is not a good thing.”

(CWD and mad cow are members of a bizarre class of diseases called the TSEs, for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Aiken studies the strange proteins, called prions, that cause the TSEs.)” (end of whyfiles copy)

Read and Learn More About
Chronic Wasting Disease

The following links are just a sampling of websites offering information about this disease. You can highlight a web address and copy it in to your browser window to view – or just as easily do your own Google Search.

Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance

Chronic Wasting Disease is a transmissible neurological disease of deer and elk that produces small lesions in brains of infected animals. It is characterized by loss of body condition, behavioral abnormalities and death. CWD is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

Mad Cow – Meet Mad Deer

State authorities are planning to kill 15,000 deer in the hills of southwest Wisconsin. The reason? A mysterious brain disease closely related to mad cow disease……


Center of Disease Control: Chronic Wasting Disease and Potential Transmission to Humans

Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Advice to Hunters ConcerningChronic Wasting Disease (CWD)


National Wildlife Health Center – USGS

…advancing wildlife and ecosystem health for a better tomorrow