Officials with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources are trying to keep a fatal deer disease from entering the state. Deer with chronic wasting disease have been found about 25 miles from Newton County near Illinois and about 35 miles from Steuben County near Michigan.
Chronic wasting disease causes neurological problems in deer, much like mad cow disease. It can cause them to lose too much weight, stumble around, and feel weak. It's also incurable. DNR Wildlife Veterinarian Nancy Boedeker says symptoms don’t always show up right away.
“It’s hard to tell if a deer is infected with chronic wasting disease. Impossible, really, just by looking,” she says.
The DNR encourages hunters in Steuben, Newton, Lake, Porter, Jasper, LaPorte, Starke, and Pulaski counties to get their deer tested to help the state with CWD surveillance.
Though there haven’t been any human cases of chronic wasting disease, a study showed some monkeys that ate infected deer got sick.
Boedeker says even though the disease isn’t in Indiana yet, the state takes chronic wasting disease very seriously.
“We want to do everything we can to protect our deer populations that are so valuable to the citizens of Indiana for a variety of reasons — for hunting, for wildlife watching, for businesses,” she says.
Controlling the disease can be expensive. Illinois spends about $1 million a year to manage it. To keep the chronic wasting disease from reaching Indiana, the DNR conducts annual statewide surveillance. Boedeker says the state has tested more than 20,000 deer since 2002, mostly looking at roadkill and visually ill animals.
For more information on where hunters can test their deer for chronic wasting disease or to report a sick deer, find resources on the DNR's website.
It seems like the DNR has gotten a handle on another disease that affects deer as well as cattle — bovine tuberculosis.
Boedeker says the state increased surveillance of the disease since finding it in a few cattle farms in 2016. She says there haven't been any recent cases of bovine TB in Indiana's cows or wild deer — with the exception of one deer found at a location previously known to have animals with the disease.
CLARIFICATION: The original version of this story stated that Indiana hunters should get their deer tested before eating them. In fact, the state recommends this practice to help DNR officials with surveillance as chronic wasting disease has not yet been found in Indiana.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.