Do white-tailed deer in Wisconsin have the COVID-19 virus, too? Work is underway to find out.
Samples are being collected this winter from hunter-killed deer to determine whether, as in at least two other states, the animals carry the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.
The work is being conducted by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employees who have volunteered to sample deer they harvest during the holiday gun hunt or late bow seasons.
It represents the start of Wisconsin’s participation in a multi-state, multi-year effort led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division to sample whitetails for COVID-19.
Deer are known to be susceptible to coronaviruses and studies last year in Iowa and Ohio found 33% and 36%, respectively, of animals tested were positive for COVID-19.
The researchers in both cases suggested there was spillover of COVID-19 from humans to deer with deer-to-deer transmission also occurring. Separate work also showed antibodies to the virus in 40% of deer tested in four states.
To date there is no proof the virus sickens deer or can be transmitted from deer to humans. But scientists say much is yet to be learned and worry about the potential for the nation’s 30 million deer to act as a reservoir for an evolving virus and a source for human infection.
Wisconsin officials recently received guidance, funding and supplies from USDA to look for the virus in deer in the Badger State, said Tami Ryan, chief of the DNR’s wildlife health section.
The DNR then solicited volunteers from within the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division who had plans to hunt during the remaining deer seasons to assist with the sampling effort.
Participants were provided instructions and a kit of supplies. They are asked to submit a nasal swab and a blood sample from each deer.
The instructions say there is “no evidence people can get COVID-19 by preparing or eating meat from an animal infected with SARS-CoV-2, including wild game meat hunted in the United States” but urge caution when handling carcasses and recommend participants wear gloves and a face mask when sampling deer.
Ryan said it’s unknown how many deer will be sampled in Wisconsin this winter but efforts will continue later in the year, including during the 2022 fall deer hunting seasons, to provide a minimum of 500 samples.
The samples will be analyzed at the USDA National Wildlife Disease Program facility in Fort Collins, Colorado.
A preliminary report of multi-state results is expected to be released later this year.
No plea entered in illegal elk shooting
The man accused of illegally shooting an elk last fall in Columbia County did not enter a plea Wednesday at the initial appearance in the case, according to Columbia County Courthouse officials.
Chase Steinhoff, 24, of Portage has been charged with unlawful hunting of elk in connection with a dead bull recovered Nov. 20, opening day of the Wisconsin gun deer season, on private property in Columbia County.
Steinhoff paid a $500 bond on the Class U misdemeanor charge. A pre-trial conference in the case is scheduled for Feb. 8 with a return date set for April 25.
State conservation wardens confiscated Steinhoff’s rifle and recovered a bullet from the elk. The elk’s body is being held as evidence.
If convicted, Steinhoff faces a fine of from $1,000 to $15,000, up to six months in jail and a five-year revocation of hunting and fishing privileges, according to the DNR.
Fish requested to aid pelican
Wildlife rehabilitators in Oconomowoc are requesting donations of fish to aid in the care of an injured white pelican.
The bird was rescued last week from Bass Bay in Big Muskego Lake in Muskego. It has an injured wing and is in treatment at Wildlife In Need Center in Oconomowoc.
White pelicans breed in Wisconsin and typically migrate south in winter. The bird being treated was unable to leave the area due to its compromised condition.
Staff at the center has put out a call to anglers or others to donate fish, preferably 8 inches in length or smaller, to help feed the pelican. Those interested in donating fish should call the center at (262) 965-3090 or visit helpingwildlife.org for more information. The center is at W349 S1480 S. Waterville Road, Oconomowoc.