TEXAS: Two More Test Postiive for CWD

State officials said Saturday that two additional deer from a captive herd in Medina County tested positive for a contagious, degenerative neurological disease, a discovery that could lead to the annihilation of an entire herd of deer.

Two preliminary tests came back positive for chronic wasting disease, but confirmation will have to wait until samples are tested by the diagnostic laboratory in Ames, Iowa, officials said. Results could be available by the middle of next week, said Josh Havens, spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

State scientists with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Animal Health Commission took 35 deer — which included bucks, does and fawns — from a ranch near San Antonio owned by breeder Robert Patterson to be euthanized and tested. The postmortem testing of brain stems, lymph nodes and rectums began Tuesday.

Patterson has been anxiously awaiting test results. Officials with the wildlife department said last month that they would wait to see the outcome of the testing before deciding what to do with the rest of Patterson’s herd, sometimes referred to as the “index herd.” The state could choose to slaughter the remainder of the herd to protect the state’s 4 million wild deer.

“We aren’t going to make a knee-jerk reaction regarding the rest of the herd without having results from Ames,” Havens said.

He added that “ultimately any decision made will be based on what is in the best interest of the state’s entire captive and free-ranging deer herds.”

Chronic wasting disease — which only affects deer, elk and maybe moose, but not humans — was discovered this summer for the first time in white-tailed deer in Texas on Patterson’s ranch. It can cause weight loss, behavioral changes, brain lesions, excessive salivation, pneumonia, difficulty swallowing and head tremors.

Patterson, who is one of 1,300 deer breeders in Texas, wasn’t available for comment Saturday. But he said last week that about 100 adult deer — many of which are highly rated bucks with large racks of antlers — remain in his pens. About 100 fawns also live there. Patterson has said he considers chronic wasting disease to be benign and noted that there are no known cases of Texas white-tailed deer — including his own — dying of chronic wasting disease.

Scott Bugai, a deer breeder and veterinarian who lives near Seguin, said there needs to be a lot thought before a decision is made.

“We need to look at this and try to determine what options are available for the index herd owner,” said Bugai, who serves as vice president of the Texas Deer Association, which advocates for breeders.

Since chronic wasting disease appeared in Medina County, the state has banned most breeders from moving their captive deer around the state. But the vast majority of breeders — most of whom raise their animals to sell to ranchers ahead of hunting season — are hoping state officials soon lift the ban and allow them to transport deer before Sept. 22, or they won’t be able to sell the trophy bucks they have bred.

Deer breeding opponents, including Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage, have warned that there are risks in confining and moving captive deer around the state.

The group’s executive director, Jenny Sanders, said Saturday that euthanasia and transportation restrictions have been part of the protocol when disease has been found in other animals.

“With risk comes a responsibility,” said Sanders, who manages a large ranch in South Texas. “We need to do what we can to stop the bleeding.”