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Missouri Department of Conservation will cull deer in Prairie State Park after discovery of chronic wasting disease

A white-tailed deer
Ted Huizinga
The department says its fighting the disease's encroachment in Missouri.

Aggressive measures to contain a deadly disease that affects deer are being taken at a Missouri state park after an infected animal was found.

The Department of Conservation says it found a deer with chronic wasting disease near Prairie State Park north of Joplin. An effort is underway to kill deer within park boundaries to control the spread of the illness.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, occurs when deer or elk come into contact with misfolded proteins, called prions, either through contact with an infected animal or contaminated food, soil, or water. Once in the body, the prions damage an animal’s brain and nervous system.

Aaron Hildreth, deer and elk biologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation, explains how to tell if a deer is infected with CWD.

“They’re deer that look in very poor body condition," Hildreth explains. "They’re emaciated, they’re thin, they’re stumbling around. Frequently they’re drooling, walking in circles. It’s really heartbreaking to see. By the time you get to that stage, it’s unfortunately just a matter of time before the population starts to decline significantly.” 

CWD is 100% fatal. The disease is highly contagious, and can’t be prevented or cured. The only solution, Hildreth says, is to keep a close eye on wildlife areas and move quickly to cull animals in an area where CWD has spread.

“Once we know where we have the disease, then we move to active and aggressive management,” Hildreth says. 

Officials establish “core areas” within one to two miles of a detected infection and begin culling the deer in that area. If an infected animal is found on private land, the Department of Conservation gives out free hunting permits to landowners. With landowners’ permission, wildlife officials remove all deer from that location to prevent the animals from leaving and spreading infection.

According to data from the Missouri Department of Conservation, targeted culling removes an average of 150 deer in a core area. Since July, 74 deer have been found positive for CWD. In 2022, over 3,000 deer were culled. The meat from deer that are negative for CWD is given to the landowner or local food pantries.

Those planning to visit Missouri parks can find information about CWD and a map of areas affected by targeted culling and park closures.

Josh Conaway is a graduate of Missouri State University with a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in International Affairs. He works as a news reporter and announcer at KSMU. His favorite part of the job is exploring the rich diversity of the Ozarks and meeting people with interesting stories to share. He has a passion for history and running.