The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) has issued a modification order that lists Red deer and Sica deer as “susceptible species” for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), putting the cervids in the same category as elk and moose and requiring strict guidelines for importing from out of state sources. Also this week, TAHC is confirming that a case of anthrax in a Texas animal has been discovered in an adult white-tailed male deer near Uvalde, the first such case in 2012.

The Commission says so far anthrax has not been discovered in domestic livestock but warns the Commission “will continue to closely monitor the situation for possible new cases across the state.”

Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) is a bacterial disease which is a naturally occurring organism with worldwide distribution, including Texas. It is not uncommon for anthrax to be diagnosed in livestock or wildlife in the Southwest part of the state. In recent years, cases have primarily been confined to a triangular area bounded by the towns of Uvalde, Ozona and Eagle Pass.

In a new development that will affect the state’s exotic wildlife industry, TAHC state veterinarian Dr. Dee Ellis says immediately new entry rules for Red deer and Sica deer will require that the animals originate from herds with at least five years of participation in a herd certification program from states where CWD has been detected, and at least three years participation in programs from states that have not found CWD.

Ellis says the agency’s decision to issue the new entry rules in part was because last month a deer in a famed Red deer herd in Minnesota was confirmed with CWD. As a result of that discovery, the USDA released an interim CWD rule on June 8 which designates Sica deer and Red deer as susceptible species.

The USDA rule is intended to establish minimum requirements for interstate movement of deer, elk, moose, and other susceptible cervids, and to establish a national CWD certification program to limit the movement of infected animals.

A blow to Texas exotic gaming?

Charles Seale, executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Association in Ingram, Texas, and advocate for the conservation of native and non-native hoofstock, says the TAHC action represents a “common sense rule,” but warns the move will probably bring about the decline of Sica deer and Red deer hunting in Texas.

“First of all, I would say there is no need for panic. There is about a one-percent chance that deer will contract Chronic Wasting Disease and there has never been a case of CWD in a Texas deer. But the requirement to monitor exotic herds and the limitations imposed on movement is probably going to cause that segment of the exotic industry to slowly fade away in Texas,” he told Southwest Farm Press.

Seale sits on a committee of veterinarians and producers in Texas who advise TAHC on proposed rules and says he is not opposed to monitoring programs designed to protect exotic animals in the state.

“But public perception over the news will rattle the exotic industry and many exotic game operators in Texas will simply choose to stop dealing with Sica deer and Red deer instead of participating in a program that will require extensive monitoring and paperwork.,” he said.

Seale says testing live animals for CWD is not possible and estimates that one in five exotic Sica deer and Red deer would need to be killed and submitted for testing if an operator chooses to participate in the monitoring program.

“This is something that most ranchers simply would rather not do. So unless you have a big operation and breed your own animals in Texas, I think we will see operators opting not to purchase out-of-state breeding stock.

Seale says also driving TAHC’s decision to impose restrictions on interstate movement of Sica and Red deer is the recent confirmation of CWD in eight mule deer in New Mexico near the Texas state line earlier this year. The mule deer with CWD were discovered in the Hueco Mountains of New Mexico. The rugged, sparsely populated range extends into Texas northeast of El Paso.

“These cases were within 25 miles of the Texas line and testing deer throughout the area is underway. But any time Chronic Wasting Disease is mentioned there is often a bit of a media frenzy over the issue that advocates and spreads fear among the general population,” he said.

Anthrax a bigger problem than CWD

Seale says fewer animals contract CWD than die from anthrax exposure each year. A hunter might bring down a mule deer or Sica deer and have it test negative for CWD, but when he gets home to put it in the freezer, his wife may refuse to cook and serve it to the family.

“Hunters who spend money on hunting the animal in the first place are going to be reluctant to bring the deer home, so it this kind of negative public perception that will have a long-reaching affect on the exotic industry for years to come,” he added.

Wildlife experts say CWD was detected in Wisconsin over ten years ago but monitoring programs put into place there have not only been effective, but also may have saved the industry.

“Venison is a regular meat choice in Wisconsin and when this problem first surfaced there breeders and stockmen embraced the new requirements and did what they had to do to sustain the industry. But in Texas hunting is the primary reason to sustain Sica and Red deer herds, and while hunters will consume the animals they take, there isn’t a large demand for venison outside the hunting community, so the stakes are different in Texas compared to Wisconsin,” Seale says.

Mike Vanacek with V-Bharre Ranch near Meridian, Texas, says Sica deer and Red deer are big attractions on their exotic hunting ranch, but he was unaware of the new TAHC rules when Southwest Farm Press contacted him for comment this week.

“This is the first I have heard of it, but you can bet I will be checking into this right away,” he said, but warned it is too early to gauge what response he and his partners will take. “This is something we will have to research and explore. But it is likely to be a major development for us.”

Seale advises exotic game operators in Texas not to panic over the new rules and encourages voluntary participation in the monitoring program. He reminds the public that CWD has never been detected in the human population and compares the disease to other types of illness among both domestic and exotic animals.

“The elk industry in Texas took a big hit years ago over similar issues and chances for recovery aren’t that good. It would be sad to see Sica deer and Red deer go down the same road. Managing a herd requires dealing with animal health issues and this new rule isn’t any different. In Texas we have a state agency that works well with producers, and learning to live within new rules is just something we must do if want to see these types of animals on Texas ranches in the future,” he said.