CWD Overview

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Chronic Wasting Disease Fact Sheet 39

CWD2023 Trifold Brochure

Some Facts about CWD in New Mexico

  • CWD is the acronym for Chronic Wasting Disease
  • New Mexico Department of Game and Fish began testing suspect deer for CWD in the 1990’s
  • The first case of CWD in New Mexico was confirmed in 2002. This was a deer from Main Post on White Sands Missile Range
  • Since 2002, CWD has been detected in both free-ranging deer and elk
    • Found in Units 19, 28, and 34
    • In New Mexico, CWD has not been found in any Class A Game Park

  • Cumulative positive animals found with CWD in New Mexico since 2002 is 59 as of 1 January 2018 and includes:
    • Harvested animals submitted by hunters
    • Animals collected because they were found ill or otherwise abnormal
    • Animals captured specifically for surveillance testing from high-risk sites
  • In addition to deer and elk, the Department has tested a limited number of oryx, bighorn sheep, antelope, and mountain lions
    • CWD was not detected in any species except deer and elk
    • Species that are not in the deer family are considered low-risk, and the Department does not routinely test low-risk species
  • History

    Discussion of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) began among Department personnel in the early 1990’s. At the time, deer at Brazos were numerous and concentrated, and reports of deer in very poor condition were common. After a deer began sleeping on the doormat at the front door of a home, the Department collected the deer and submitted the first suspected CWD case. The test came back negative from Veterinary Diagnostic Services in Albuquerque.

    CWD was found only in Colorado and Wyoming and seemed to be a remote risk even after the disease was detected in Nebraska. When CWD was detected in Wisconsin in early 2002, the risk of spread became real and proximate. New Mexico followed Wisconsin with CWD detected in a White Sands deer during March of 2002. A CWD advisory board was convened from several agencies. Surveillance was planned for the area of the index case. Department personnel, with strong public support, opposed any attempts to depopulate the mule deer in the area of the index case to eliminate or reduce prevalence of CWD.

    The first CWD symposium was convened in Denver, CO during in August of 2002. At that meeting, a group met to assist New Mexico with surveillance. In December, persons from National Park Service and Colorado Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory came to New Mexico to capture deer at the White Sands cantonment area. High winds hampered capture with clover traps, and chemical immobilization was difficult. Of 5 deer killed or captured, 3 were positive with CWD. This operation was the first application of ante-mortem testing with tonsillar tissue for management purposes.

    The Department instituted mandatory check-in and check-out of hunters in Game Management Unit (GMU) 19 for the following hunting season in January 2003. It was also mandatory during that hunt for hunters to present all harvested deer for tissue collection and CWD testing. Two hunter-killed deer from Dripping Springs and the adjacent Organ Mountains yielded positive tests. Since then, check-in and check-out of hunters in GMU 19 and presentation of harvested deer for CWD testing have remained mandatory. No more hunter-harvested deer from GMU 19 have tested positive for CWD since that time. Additional positive deer have been collected from GMU 19, but they have been reported suspect animals or deer captured through surveillance. To date, the cumulative total of CWD detections in GMU 19 is 19.

    Early in 2005, a sick, lethargic, emaciated deer was reported in Timberon, NM, GMU 34. That deer was collected and CWD was confirmed. This was the first case of CWD in GMU 34. During the hunting season of 2005, the first elk with CWD were tested. One was a reported CWD suspect, and the other was a sport-harvested elk; both were free-ranging animals. To date, the cumulative total of positive CWD tests from GMU 34 is 13, 8 deer and 5 elk.

    During the 2007 hunt, a youth hunter harvested a buck deer appearing normal from GMU 28. The positive CWD test was the first case confirmed in GMU 28. It is now mandatory for GMU 28 hunters to present their harvested deer and elk so tissues can be collected for testing. Personnel from Fort Bliss collect tissue from harvested deer during the hunt, and now CWD positive deer are harvested each year. Prevalence seems higher in GMU28 than any other area, and the Department has done more ante-mortem surveillance in GMU 28 than any other unit. To date, the cumulative number of positive CWD tests is 26, and of those, 4 were harvested elk.

    CWD has not been detected in species other than deer and elk in New Mexico. Tissues from bighorn, antelope, oryx, and cougar have been tested. Other states have also done surveillance in other species, but in the United States, CWD has not been detected in any species outside the family, Cervidae.

    Surveillance Methodology

    From the beginning, the Department has encouraged successful hunters to present heads of harvested deer and elk for CWD testing. The Department submits tissues for CWD testing at no cost to hunters. Hunters who participate are entered into a random draw for hunting license authorizations. This has served as an incentive for hunters to present their harvested deer or elk heads for testing to increase the extent of surveillance.

    In 2003, over 800 tissues were tested. Currently, the Department receives 200-300 tissues annually for testing. Most of these tissues are collected at established collection sites. Each year, collection sites are established in GMU 34 and GMU 28. GMU 19 hunters contact the Department by phone for tissue collection. Fewer than 100 hunters present their harvested deer or elk heads at a Department office, though each office is prepared to collect tissues from hunters.

    The Department conducts targeted surveillance through capture and ante-mortem testing at herds deemed to be at high risk. The Department has also done advance ante-mortem testing in populations from which deer were subsequently translocated.

    All deer or elk found or reported to be sick or abnormal are collected and tested irrespective of clinical symptoms. Surveillance among abnormal animals is among the most effective methods to detect presence of CWD.

    2023-24 CWD hunter Check Station Dates and Locations
    Hunt CodeDateUnitLocation
    ELK-3-350Oct 14-1834The intersection of Sunspot Hwy and Cox Canyon Hwy (Highway 130)
    ELK-1-351Oct 21-2534The intersection of Sunspot Hwy and Cox Canyon Hwy (Highway 130)
    DER-1-320Oct 28-Nov 134The intersection of Sunspot Hwy and Cox Canyon Hwy (Highway 130)
    DER-1-115Nov 4-82BFR 310, just off Highway 64
    DER-1-321Nov 11-1534The intersection of Sunspot Hwy and Cox Canyon Hwy (Highway 130)
    DER-1-294Oct 28 - Nov 130Off of 137. Exact location TBD
    ELK-1-318Nov 25-2934The intersection of Sunspot Hwy and Cox Canyon Hwy (Highway 130)
    ELK-1-353Dec 2-634The intersection of Sunspot Hwy and Cox Canyon Hwy (Highway 130)
    Dec 9-1328State Route 506 just east of U.S. 54 and the Border Patrol traffic stop
    ELK-1-354Dec 9-1334The intersection of Sunspot Hwy and Cox Canyon Hwy (Highway 130)
    Dec 16-1728State Route 506 just east of U.S. 54 and the Border Patrol traffic stop

    Game Parks

    Game parks in New Mexico increase risk for CWD because translocation of animals is central to the business. Most game parks in New Mexico are dedicated to hunting. These are high-fenced areas, and management of the animals inside is negligible. A very few game parks support managed breeding for production and sale of live animals. Animals in production facilities are closely confined at high densities and fed rationed feed. If infected, CWD spreads rapidly under such conditions. Class A Park rules do not mandate surveillance testing in the absence of confirmed CWD. None of the game parks elects to test any of their cervids.

    Rules to import cervids into New Mexico game parks are thorough, and, if followed, reduce risk of bringing CWD into game parks. The Department is certified by USDA to administer the federal Herd Certification Program. Because game parks are isolated and not closely monitored, compliance with importation rules is unknown. No restrictions exist to hinder or regulate intrastate movement and trade among game parks within New Mexico. Natural reproduction occurs within hunting game parks, but is unmanaged.

    The Department has conducted depopulation of 4 game parks since 2002. Tissues were collected during depopulations, and no positive tests resulted.

    The Department has quarantine authority and has exercised it once for a case in which a New Mexico game park became a trace forward facility in an epidemiological investigation from Colorado. This quarantine lasted until 5 years from the time of the importation at issue. The Director of the Department has authority to declare an animal health emergency and suspend existing rules or implement special measures. A moratorium on importation was declared in the early 2000’s, as CWD was being detected in many new states. Currently, CWD appears to be spreading largely through human-mediated movements of cervids, and in January 2018, the Director of the Department declared a moratorium on importation for an indefinite duration. That moratorium remains in effect at the time of this writing.

    Management Actions

    The Department established rules to prevent spread of CWD through carcass transport shortly after the first confirmed case. In CWD positive areas, hunters must leave high-risk material in the game management unit of harvest. Hunters may remove only boned meat, hide, antlers, cleaned skull caps, and teeth. The remainder of the carcass must be left in in the field.

    All deer and elk reported to be abnormal are now investigated. Those animals found by Department personnel to be significantly abnormal or compromised are collected. All such animals are defined as CWD suspects, and personnel collect the proper tissues for CWD testing. When possible and appropriate, full necropsies are performed in addition to CWD testing. This protocol allows the Department to understand some causes of unexplained mortality. This policy has resulted in a number of detections of CWD positive animals.

    The Department encourages hunters to present the heads of recent legally harvested deer and elk for CWD testing. Incentives for hunters are offered by the Department to increase surveillance through hunter harvest. This has been the best way for the Department to conduct tests from animals in all parts of the state.

    Some evidence exists that among deer, males might be more likely to get CWD. Buck-only hunting in New Mexico might be a factor helping keep the prevalence of CWD as low as possible. Special rules that facilitate maximum harvest in areas of high deer density also might help reduce CWD prevalence by reducing deer density. Such rules have been implemented in parts of New Mexico.

    Regulations to reduce risk of transporting CWD into New Mexico have been implemented and modified. Two complete importation moratoriums have been imposed by the Department. During times importation is allowed, source herds must document and verify their testing and inventory tracking. Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented its Herd Certification Program, the Department has relied on herd certification to approve importations and minimize risk of importing more CWD.

    The Department has conducted 4 depopulations of game parks. The first was a game park stocked from a Colorado game park in which CWD was confirmed after elk from that game park were translocated to New Mexico. Two depopulations resulted when game parks wanted to cease operating the facility. To minimize risk to free-ranging cervids outside the high fence, the Department removed all cervids within one of the closing game parks. The game park was located in an area where CWD was not found and this park had not translocated elk for many years. Most, and maybe all, cervids were removed from this park before the fences were struck. If any deer or elk remained, they were considered to pose very low risk. The most recent depopulation was removal of cervids from a high-fenced paddock not licensed as a game park. Cervids were of unknown origin, and all were destroyed.

    A crematory was installed at Department headquarters. The crematory is sized for up to 1200 pound batches in cases of disease outbreak. Temperatures within the burn chamber are adequate to inactivate the CWD infective agent, according to published studies. This crematory is deployed to dispose all CWD high-risk cervid or other suspect material.


    The Department has conducted surveillance since CWD was detected in 2002. The distribution of CWD is determined from these data, and the long duration of surveillance gives high confidence to Department estimates of distribution. At present, CWD exists among deer and elk in the Organ Mountains, the Sacramento Mountains, and the Hueco Mountains.

    With continued spread of CWD across North America, New Mexico will increase surveillance efforts across the state in years to come. Tissue collection will be increased at border areas through hunter participation and through active surveillance. In particular, tissue collection efforts will be increased at the eastern border with Texas through collection stations with notice to hunters. Surveillance will be conducted at the northern border through increased contact with hunters and through active surveillance in herds at increased risk from southward movement of CWD from Colorado. Although CWD is not known to occur in Arizona, the Department will increase tissues collected from the western part of the state. This will be done through increased hunter contact and through active collection during Department capture operations. All personnel collecting tissues will be trained and meet competencies for collection. The Department cannot risk or pay for tests that are inconclusive because of technician error.

    Today, it is mandatory for hunters in GMU 19 and 28 to submit harvested animals for testing. This rule is casually enforced. In the future, enforcement in these two areas will be more active, and that can occur with very little additional effort. These hunts are limited in number, and access points are few making it straightforward to track licenses and hunters.

    If prevalence of CWD appears to be increasing more quickly, the Department could respond with more aggressive hunting in areas of high CWD prevalence or in areas of high deer or elk density. Harvest of males could be increased with some rule changes. Such management might make more sense under future conditions.

    No testing from mortality or hunter harvest is currently required in game parks. The Department could consider imposing mandatory testing in game parks to have some knowledge of CWD status within privately held cervids. Such regulations could be implemented within the framework of the federal Herd Certification Program. Additionally, some regulation and restriction could be imposed on intrastate translocation of privately owned cervids. Currently, only a notice of intent is required for game park owners to move cervids within the state.


    At the time of the first case of CWD, it was decided not to attempt to eliminate the infected herd of deer in GMU 19. CWD eradication through herd elimination is probably not possible now. Currently, no known vaccine or treatment is known to prevent infection, contagion, or spread of CWD. No treatment exists to cure or prolong survival of animals infected with CWD. CWD has spread from deer to elk to moose in North America. Despite clinical trials in primates and transgenic mice, most scientists still think it unlikely that CWD will readily transmit to humans. Evidence exists that the substrate can become infective in areas of high CWD prevalence. The hunting public in New Mexico continues to be largely unconcerned. However, if CWD becomes perceived to be a human health risk, that complacent sentiment could change. Hunter concern and fear could conceivably reduce participation in hunting and significantly impact New Mexico Game and Fish and other agencies in the United States that regulate and depend on hunting and license sales for revenue.

    Further Reading

    Web-based sources of information about CWD and Spongiform disease:


    Centers for Disease Control and Management

    Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance

    USGS National Wildlife Health Center

    World Organization for Animal Health

    Southeastern Cooperative Disease Study

    US Animal Health Association


    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.

    Confirmed Cases

    Confirmed Cases of Chronic Wasting Disease in New Mexico

    GMUCollection DateKill DateLocationTissueSpecies
    19June 1, 2002June 1, 2002WSMR main post (first CWD Positive in NM)CWD AreaDeer
    19November 4, 2002November 4, 2002WSMR Main PostCWD AreaDeer
    19November 12, 2002November 12, 2002WSMR Main PostCWD AreaDeer
    19December 17, 2002December 17, 2002WSMR Main PostTonsil BiopsyDeer
    19January 1, 2003January 1, 2003Organ Mtns.Hunter HarvestDeer
    19January 4, 2003January 4, 2003Dripping SpringsHunter HarvestDeer
    19November 14, 2003November 14, 2003WSMR MAIN POSTCWD AreaDeer
    34January 13, 2004January 13, 200515 miles NE of PinonCWD SuspectDeer
    19December 14, 2004December 14, 2004West Organs, W of Massey TankTonsil BiopsyDeer
    19December 14, 2004December 14, 2004West Organs, W of Dripping Spring Visitor CenterTonsil BiopsyDeer
    19April 5, 2005April 5, 2005WSMR - Tag # 482Tonsil BiopsyDeer
    19April 11, 2005WSMR, SW of Antelope HillCWD AreaDeer
    19April 15, 2005April 15, 2005SW of Dripping springsCWD AreaDeer
    34June 6, 2005June 5, 2005TimberonCWD SuspectDeer
    34October 1, 2005October 1, 2005Hughes CanyonCWD SuspectElk
    34October 3, 2005October 3, 2005Wayland CanyonHunter HarvestElk
    19December 10, 2005Antelope HillTonsil BiopsyDeer
    34March 24, 2006March 24, 2006TimberonCWD SuspectDeer
    19April 21, 2006April 21, 2006N of sewage plant (Bishops Cap)CWD AreaDeer
    19June 2, 2006June 2, 2006WSMR SW of Red Butte, Stallion rangeFound DeadDeer
    34August 12, 2006August 12, 2006TimberonCWD AreaDeer
    34October 27, 2006October 27, 2006West of PinonHunter HarvestDeer
    19July 13, 2007July 13, 2007South of Bishop's CapCWD SuspectDeer
    28October 14, 2007October 14, 2007Mc GregorHunter HarvestDeer
    34October 30, 2007October 28, 2007Unit 34 private landHunter HarvestDeer
    19December 13, 2007December 13, 2007WSMR Main PostCWD AreaDeer
    28October 12, 2008October 12, 2008McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28October 13, 2008October 12, 2008McGregorHunter HarvestDeer
    34October 29, 2008October 25, 2008Private landHunter HarvestDeer
    34March 2, 2009March 1, 2009Rio PenascoCWD SuspectElk
    34December 6, 2009December 6, 2009Wills CanyonCWD SuspectElk
    28May 9, 2010CWD AreaDeer
    28October 10, 2010October 10, 2010McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28November 17, 2010November 17, 2010McGregorCWD AreaDeer
    34November 27, 2010November 27, 2010Lookout StationHunter HarvestElk
    28March 12, 2011March 12, 2011McGregorCWD AreaDeer
    28March 13, 2011March 13, 2011McGregorCWD AreaDeer
    28March 13, 2011March 13, 2011McGregorCWD AreaDeer
    28October 9, 2011October 9, 2011McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28October 9, 2011October 9, 2011McGregor Range SouthHunter HarvestDeer
    28October 10, 2011October 9, 2011McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28February 17, 2012February 17, 2012McGregorRectal BiopsyDeer
    28February 18, 2012February 18, 2012McGregorRectal BiopsyDeer
    34October 27, 2012October 27, 2012TimberonHunter HarvestDeer
    28October 5, 2013October 5, 2013McGregorHunter HarvestDeer
    28December 11, 2013December 9, 2013McGregorHunter HarvestElk
    28December 11, 2013December 11, 2013McGregorHunter HarvestElk
    28December 11, 2013December 11, 2013McGregorHunter HarvestElk
    19February 12, 2014February 12, 2014NASACWD SuspectDeer
    19April 6, 2014April 5, 2014East of Las CrucesCWD SuspectDeer
    28November 21, 2015November 21, 2015McGregor RangeDeer
    28November 21, 2015November 21, 2015McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28November 21, 2015December 21, 2015McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28November 22, 2015November 21, 2015McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28November 22, 2015November 22, 2015McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28November 27, 2016November 26, 2016McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28November 27, 2016November 27, 2016McGregor RangeHunter HarvestDeer
    28December 12, 2016December 12, 2016McGregor RangeHunter HarvestElk

    Control Areas

    Chronic Wasting Disease Control Areas

    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 tissue collection station or by arrangement with a local game warden. Hunters who harvest deer or elk 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.

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