Live test for wasting disease gets green light.


Mar 11, 2001
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Live test for wasting disease gets green light.

By the Associated Press

DENVER – Wildlife managers have a new test that allows them to check for a fatal brain malady in deer without killing the animal.

The tonsil test for chronic wasting disease was studied earlier this year by researchers with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming.

It has been deemed effective and will start being used for wildlife management within a few weeks, Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury said Monday. However, it is more expensive.

Chronic wasting disease occurs in deer in northern Colorado and southeast Wyoming.

Malmsbury said the tonsil test is more accurate than the standard chronic wasting disease test, which involves destroying the animal and checking its brain for evidence of the disease.

While the new test will never replace hunter-harvest surveys because of logistics and expense, it does give researchers a way to evaluate deer herds that can’t be hunted, such as those in suburban settings.

The new test works because the mutant proteins that cause the disease concentrate in deer tonsils and other lymph system tissue during its early stages. Biologists must first tranquilize the animals before snipping off a piece of tonsil with a biopsy tool. The animal is then tagged for later identification and released.

But obtaining tonsil samples from live deer is several times more expensive than testing hunter-killed animals.

And the test doesn’t work on elk, so it won’t prevent the slaughter of 1,500 elk exposed to a current outbreak of chronic wasting disease on Colorado ranches.

The wildlife division has been using tonsils instead of brain samples to diagnose chronic wasting disease in deer heads turned in by hunters for two years. The agency began evaluating deer tonsils as a potential indicator in 1996.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Wildlife Commission has extended a temporary moratorium on new captive deer and elk facilities to allow the Division of Wildlife time to develop permanent regulations.

The emergency regulation adopted last week will remain in effect for up to 90 days. The commission first adopted the emergency regulation in September after a diseased elk were discovered on a commercial elk ranch. The fear is the disease will spread as animals are shipped elsewhere.

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