There’s Zombie Deer Now, So That’s Cool
Ok, horror movie buffs out there: Do you remember that move Train to Busan? That one South Korean zombie apocalypse movie that was making waves about two years ago?
For those who HAVE seen it, I have some bad news: The first scene with a deer that gets hit by a truck and then jerkily gets back on its feet might not be… quite as far off as we would like. Yep, I’m sure this isn’t what you thought you were going to hear today, but it snowed in Las Vegas, Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens is coming out soon and we’ve got zombie deer in Colorado. So, I’m pretty sure all signs point to the end of days. Just saying.
According to an article from the Denver Post, it all started back in the 1960s, when Colorado was the first state to see instances of an illness called chronic wasting disease in a captive deer herd. CWD is a fatal prion sickness that eats away at animals’ brains, causing deer to drastically lose weight, salivate and lose coordination, all of which led CWD to be known as the ‘zombie deer disease’. No one’s quite sure how, but the illness managed to spread from the captive deer to wild deer, elk, and moose populations, and has now spread across the United States. And while that’s not exactly fine, it might be less concerning if there wasn’t some worry that people could contract the disease by eating meat from a sickened deer.
However, Colorado does have regulated testing areas for deer in certain regions, such as Boulder County, which notifies hunters if they draw a tag in a mandatory testing region. The goal is to warn people when they’re in places where the disease has manifested, as the animals don’t always present obvious symptoms. Then, once an animal has been killed, Colorado Parks and Wildlife can test for the disease in another very zombie-like fashion: they need the head to test an animal’s lymph nodes, which must be done within five days of the deer’s death. Otherwise, there’s no way to tell if a hunter’s been keeping contaminated meat in their freezer. This is worrisome, as there is a possibility that the disease could spread to people who eat the meat from a sickened deer. It’s particularly dangerous for three reasons: One, there is evidence of prion diseases spreading from animals to people via food (looking at you, mad cow disease). Two, the wide spread of CWD across the U.S. brings it into closer contact with more people, thus increasing the risk for people and other animals. And finally, there is no known cure at this time.
However, Colorado Parks and Wildlife does say that hunting helps to limit the spread of the disease, as long as the carcasses are not left out in the wild. They are also "looking to find adaptive management tactics for helping prevent further spread of CWD and controlling it in herds that are already affected,” said Jason Clay, a spokesperson for the department. “Controlling [it] is critical for the long-term health of our herds," he continued. Hunters just need to be sure to get their meat tested, especially when hunting in an area with a prevalence of the illness.
So, whether you’re a fan of venison or a hunter yourself, tread cautiously out there. We all know what happens otherwise—or, you will once you watch Train to Busan.