Mississippi scientists lead cooperative effort to create CWD video series

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 24, 2023

Mississippi State scientists have teamed with state and federal agencies and other universities to shed light on chronic wasting disease, a complicated infection that has spread through U.S. and Canadian deer populations for 60 years, through a series of animated videos.

CWD is a highly contagious and incurable illness affecting deer of all ages and states of health. First discovered in Colorado, it has spread to 30 states and four Canadian provinces. Discovered in Mississippi in 2018, hunters may not be aware of the disease’s presence or understand its significance. Wildlife agencies and academics in other states faced similar challenges getting the message to their hunters. The team of wildlife biologists proposed a solution: take this complex issue and explain it in animated videos, called doodles, that the public could view from any of the partners’ websites.

The videos can be viewed at www.msudeer.msstate.edu/chronic-wasting-disease.php and at cooperating agencies’ websites.

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“We were inspired by the videos that scientists developed to explain how the COVID-19 viruses work,” said Bronson Strickland, St. John Family Professor of Wildlife Management and Extension wildlife specialist in the MSU Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture. “Those videos, which use animation and narration to convey complex scientific concepts, got a lot of views and seemed like an ideal format for our message.”

Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided the mechanism to commission the videos. The MSU Deer Lab partnered with Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries; Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Indiana Department of Natural Resources; Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture; Missouri Conservation Department; Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources; University of Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Restoration to create a series of short, animated videos covering the most critical topics on CWD.

The 13-part series, each about two minutes long, gives quick and informative presentations on the disease, including a brief overview and topics such as prevention, management and mitigation. For instance, episode 13 discusses how hunters can work with wildlife agencies to help monitor and control CWD.

“Our team represented a broad range of perspectives,” said Steve Demarais, Dale H. Arner Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management and Taylor Chair in Applied Big Game Research and Instruction. “Some states have dealt with CWD for many years, some just a few years and others not at all, so everyone came at this project with slightly different views and experiences.”

Although Mississippi’s statewide CWD prevalence is low compared to some states and the slow spread of the disease may cloud its gravity, Demarais said being informed about CWD and following state agency guidelines is important, even if you are not hunting in a management zone.

“Our staff interviewed a Mississippi hunter who shot three deer last season with his son, and the two deer they thought looked the healthiest tested positive,” Demarais said. “CWD won’t debilitate the deer until the later stages of the disease, but the deer may be infected and spread the disease much earlier than symptoms appear.”

While the science regarding the disease is ongoing, health officials advise against eating CWD-infected deer.

Strickland and Demarais encourage the public to review the videos to learn more of the complicated background behind the disease. They believe knowledge and action are key to controlling this disease.

“We don’t want to discourage individuals from hunting and harvesting deer during the season,” Demarais said. “However, we encourage individuals to check with their state fish and wildlife agency on how to test harvested deer for CWD.”