FWC asking for meat processors, taxidermists help with testing for 'zombie deer disease'

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is looking for meat processors and taxidermists to help them test for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer. 

Sometimes known as ‘zombie deer disease,’ CWD is a highly contagious disease that affects the brain and central nervous system. CWD is fatal to deer, elk, moose, and caribou.

One year ago, Florida’s first case of CWD was identified in a 4.5-year-old road-killed female white-tailed deer in Holmes County near the Alabama border. Since then, there have been no other reported cases of CWD, according to the FWC.

FWC spokesperson Lauren Claerbout told FOX 13 that wildlife officials have increased testing in the Holmes County area and have also continued surveillance throughout the state.

"The FWC annually sets goals for the number of samples to collect in each county of the state," Claerbout said. "However, in certain counties, it's difficult for FWC staff to find and sample enough deer carcasses to reach those goals. So, with the help of hunters, processors, and taxidermists in those counties, we should be able to fill in those gaps and reach all of our county goals for the year."

READ: WATCH: Deputy uses broom to sweep away Gator from Florida restaurant

Since July 2023the FWC has tested 3,424 deer. Their goal is to figure out how many CWD-positive deer are in Florida.

"It's really great having meat processors and taxidermists in this program, because then hunters -- when they go to a meat processor or taxidermist -- it's just a one-stop-shop for them to get their deer tested and also their meat processed or their taxidermy," Claerbout said.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), CWD has been detected in 34 states.

In an effort to prevent the spread of CWD into Florida, the FWC approved rule changes in 2021, prohibiting people from bringing deer carcasses and certain deer parts into Florida from other states. Under the new rules, people may import into Florida only deboned meat, finished taxidermy mounts, clean hides and antlers, and skulls if the soft tissue has been removed. 

READ: Python swallows woman whole in Indonesia

CWD can be spread through direct contact with infected animals or by indirect transmission through the environment. Signs and symptoms include deer that appear very thin who display abnormal behavior.

"It's really important that we keep deer populations stable so that we can continue to sustainably harvest deer," Claerbout said.

According to the CDC, CWD hasn’t been shown to infect people.

Meat processors who are selected for the FWC’s program will get $20 per deer head submitted for testing. Taxidermists will get $30 for each sample taken and submitted for testing.

To apply for the FWC’s program, click here.

If you see a deer that is sick or dead due to unknown causes, call the CWD hotline at 866-293-9282.

SIGN UP: Click here to sign up for the FOX 13 daily newsletter