Montana recorded its first suspected case of chronic wasting disease in wild elk Monday.

The cow elk was harvested by a landowner on private land northeast of Red Lodge earlier this month.

Communications Education Program Manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Bob Gibson provided details.

“For the first time ever Chronic Wasting Disease was found earlier this month in eastern Carbon County in elk,” said Gibson. “There has never been an elk before in the wild population. In 1999 there was a captive game farm herd around Phillipsburg that had some Chronic Wasting Disease, but that herd was eliminated, so this is the first time it has appeared in wild elk in Montana. Elk is a hallmark species here in Montana. There are a lot of avid elk hunters and that’s a very precious thing to them.”

Gibson explained the seriousness of the discovery.

“Chronic wasting Disease is not only hardy, but it’s devastating,” he said. “It’s a prion-based disease, so it’s not like a virus or a bacteria that can ruin its course. The prion is a deformity in the central nervous system that can be spread from animal to animal. It’s devastating in that once it gets a prevalence of over five percent in a herd, it grows fast. In Wyoming they’ve documented cases where it kills 20 percent of a herd of deer per year, sp next year it kills another 20 percent and another 20 percent the next year, but it has never spread to humans, says the CDC, but you don’t ever want to be the first one.”

Gibson said there is no existing protocol as to how to respond to finding CWD in wild elk.

“Simply because this is the first wild elk to have the disease,” he said. “But in deer, we have special hunts to thin the herd so that there is less chance of animal to animal contact, so there are some opportunities there to manage the herds where Chronic Wasting Disease was present.”

The 2019 general hunting season ends on Sunday, Dec. 1.

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