The province is asking hunters for 2,000 deer heads, in order to monitor a progressive disease among wildlife.
The environment ministry wants to track the effects that chronic wasting disease (CWD) has on deer, moose, elk and caribou in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
There’s a data shortage of reported cases of the disease in certain areas of Saskatchewan, according to ministry health specialist Iga Stasiak.
“Right now we’ve had about 1,000 deer heads submitted for testing. At the end of hunting season last year, we only had 800,” she said.
A 2017 provincial map of CWD cases from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative shows large swaths around Weyburn, Regina, Yorkton and Humboldt as having almost no confirmed cases over the past 17 years (from 2000 to 2017).
Stasiak confirmed that’s an example of under-reported data that the ministry needs to get a clear, province-wide picture of deer populations and instances of CWD.
Initial results from this year’s hunting season shows a province-wide increase of CWD, she said. But Stasiak said she can’t yet conclude if that’s because the disease is affecting more deer this season, or because more specimens are available for testing.
As for submitting heads, after hunters shoot and butcher a deer, they should double-bag the head and drop it at any of the province’s 40 field offices; the animal’s remains should be left where the it was shot, Stasiak said.
They can expect to hear back on test results two to eight weeks later, depending on where in the province the field office is, she said.
She hopes the potentially long wait isn’t a deterrent for hunters. “It’s important that we have this data to manage our province’s wildlife population and to develop a management plan, based on that data,” she said.
More information about the provincial CWD tracking program can be found here.
There have been no confirmed cases of people contracting CWD after eating deer meat infected with the disease, but the ministry still advises not eating affected deer meat.
Stasiak said the disease is spread through urine and fecal matter, and that predators don’t seem to play a role in spreading it.
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