Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has emerged as a wildlife scourge with extremely foreboding characteristics. It has provided a little taste of what we might expect in the future as territorial boundaries throughout our world become smaller, and domestic and international trade contribute to the globalization process. While these processes have contributed to the spread of disease ever since ancient trade caravans linked the settlements of Eurasia and ocean vessels scowered the far reaches of the globe for resources, they have only recently been recognized as a major threat to our wildlife populations. CWD is an important example of the possibilities that exist. While primarily remaining a domestic issue, CWD has illustrated the relationship that can exist between trade and the spread of disease. .
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is found in wild and captive cervid populations throughout the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain States, along with Wisconsin and two Canadian provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan. CWD has affected populations of elk, mule deer, and/or whitetail deer in these areas. It is a fatal disease belonging to the family of Transmissable Spongiform Encephalitis (TSE), which also includes Mad Cow Disease (cattle), Scrapies (sheep), and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (humans). TSE's are characterized by the presence of mutated proteins called "prions" in the nervous and lymphatic systems of infected individuals. Though relatively little is known about this disease, it was first discovered in the 1960s in northeastern Colorado and is thought to be transmitted through animal-to-animal contact along with indirect environmental contact. It has been documented in both domestic and wild cervid populations (McCombie, Aug. 2002). .
The growth of domestic deer and elk herds has increased significantly in the past several years. While many of these animals may be raised for slaughter, the industry also involves selling these animals to game ranches where they will be bred and hunted as trophy animals.