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 with Rob Miskosky

With New Strains Comes...

A few years ago, a journalist from a Swedish hunting magazine—who was in Alberta doing a story on a Swedish hunter who had won an outfitted deer hunt here—contacted me. The hunt had been sponsored by the journalist’s magazine and he wanted to know more about hunting in Alberta for his story, so I agreed to meet him for a beer. We talked for quite a while and along with filling him in on our hunting system in Alberta, I too learned much about hunting in Sweden. Unknown to me at the time was how important hunting was to Swedish folks and that most everybody there hunted, especially for moose. In fact, moose hunting in Sweden is considered a sacred activity. My Swedish journalist informed me that moose populations in Sweden are equal to or even higher than our deer populations are here in Alberta, with moose numbers there estimated to be as high as 400,000. Sweden is also considerably smaller in size than Alberta, being only 450,295 km2 compared to Alberta’s 661,848 km2.

At that time, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Alberta was fully entrenched in our eastern deer populations and our Swedish guest was particularly interested in the disease. He was horrified to learn that our only means of CWD control was a surveillance program. I explained to him that at one point, we were culling deer along our eastern border but public uproar ended the program. Then our conversation turned to CWD and moose, could they get it? He went on about how devastating it would be to get CWD in moose in Sweden; with such dense numbers, what would they do? Alberta had yet to have a case of CWD in moose at that time so we both agreed it would be highly unlikely that moose could get it. Boy, were we wrong!

A couple years after our visit, Alberta identified its first case of CWD in moose. Since then, only two other moose have been confirmed to have CWD in Alberta, so numbers are quite low, at least as far as we know. Saskatchewan, on the other hand... “In 2020-21, CWD was detected in seven moose in Saskatchewan. Five of these animals were collected through the hunter surveillance program, one was a case seized by conservation officers and an additional animal was found dead and submitted as a clinical case. The majority of moose were detected in areas of the province where the disease is highly prevalent in mule deer populations, and are considered spillover cases from infected deer.”

So, it appears that CWD in moose is becoming more and more common as the disease progresses; at least it is in Saskatchewan. However, if it is increasing in Saskatchewan, Alberta is most assuredly going to follow suit.
I have seldom thought about that Swedish journalist who called me out-of-the-blue on a fine fall day several years ago, but just a few days ago, our meeting once again filled my thoughts. It was after reading an article somewhere that was discussing moose being diagnosed with CWD in Sweden. My first thought was of that journalist’s concern, especially for their moose population, and now, there it was, CWD in moose, in Sweden. 

But what is interesting about the discovery of CWD in both Sweden and Norway is that a recent study showed that “By inoculating mice with the prion strains found in cervids in Norway, a group of researchers has found that these are not identical to strains found in cervids in North America.”

According to Sylvie Benestad, prion researcher from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, “With new strains also comes the question of whether these can represent health risks for us humans.” 

Suddenly, we have a different strain of chronic wasting disease in Europe than we do in North America.

Oh... crap!

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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