Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease2016-11-14T12:44:52+00:00

Chronic Wasting Disease Western Wildlife Health Cooperative

In September 2012, the Department expanded areas where hunters must observe special rules pertaining to the handling and transportation of big-game carcasses to all of Game Management Units 19, 28 and 34.

Simple Precautions Advised: Public health officials advise hunters to take the following precautions when pursuing or handling deer and elk in the endemic area.

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears sick; contact the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish at (505) 476-8038 if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear rubber gloves when field dressing carcasses.
  • Bone out the meat from your animal.
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.)
  • Avoid consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.
  • Request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal.
  • Hunters are advised not to eat certain parts of deer and elk. While the agent that produces chronic wasting disease in deer and elk has not been positively identified, there is strong evidence to suggest that abnormally shaped proteins, called prions, are responsible. Research completed by the Division of Wildlife and other agencies indicates that the prions accumulate only in certain parts of infected animals – the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen.
  • Research also indicates that prions do not accumulate in muscle tissue. Based upon these findings, hunters are recommended to bone out their meat and consume only muscle tissue from animals harvested in endemic units.
Officer Pat Mathis of New Mexico Game & Fish performs biopsy of deer tonsil for signs of Chronic Wasting Disease

Officer Pat Mathis performs biopsy of deer tonsil


Close Up: Biopsy of deer tonsil - searching for signs of Chronic Wasting Disease

Close Up: Biopsy of deer tonsil.

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
Contact: (505) 476-8000



SANTA FE – Chronic wasting disease in deer and elk in southern New Mexico has prompted the Department of Game and Fish to expand areas where hunters must observe special rules pertaining to the handling and transportation of animal carcasses.

The Department has designated the entire Game Management Units 34, 28 and 19 as Chronic Wasting Disease Control Areas. Previously, only portions of some units were designated as control areas.

Department rules allows hunters who take a deer or elk within a control area to transport only certain portions of the carcass outside the boundaries of the Game Management Unit from which it was taken. Those portions include:

  • Meat that is cut and wrapped, either commercially or privately.
  • Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached.
  • Meat that has been boned out.
  • Hides with no heads attached.
  • Clean skull plates with antlers attached. Clean is defined as having been immersed in a bath of at least one part chlorine bleach and two parts water, with no meat or tissue attached.
  • Antlers, with or without velvet, attached to skull plate with no meat or tissue attached.
  • Upper canine teeth, also known as “buglers,” whistlers,” or “ivories.”
  • Finished taxidermied heads.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease found in deer, elk and moose. It belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion diseases. The disease attacks the brains of infected deer, elk and moose, causing the animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior and incoordination, and eventually die.

To date, ongoing investigations by state and federal public health officials have shown no causal relationship between CWD and human health problems.

Hunters can assist the Department in its chronic wasting disease research and tracking efforts by submitting deer or elk heads for testing within 48 hours of harvest at a field-testing station within a control area. Hunters who harvest deer or elk outside a control area can submit heads for testing at any Department office. Participating hunters will be entered into a special drawing for transferrable elk or oryx licenses.

For more information about chronic wasting disease, the drawing, or a field-testing station location, please call the Department at (505) 476-8080.