Thursday, July 12, 2007

NEW BRUNSWICK NEWS: Mild Winter, Spring Deer Population Up

A mild winter may be responsible for what looks like a baby boom in New Brunswick's deer population.

Rod Cumberland, the province's deer biologist, says numbers are up in certain areas of the province, including the Tobique River Valley, the Saint John-Kennebecasis River Valley and the Miramichi River Valley.

Cumberland says biologists are also seeing an increase in multiple births, with three sets of triplets found this year and four sets of quadruplets.

Single births and twins are common among deer.

Not only are there more fawns, more of them are surviving through the winter and early spring. Cumberland says the weather had a lot to do with that.

"The lack of snow, of course, is a good thing for deer, especially those that live this far north," he said. "Usually it's the tough winters that keep our deer population from growing a lot."

Researchers are now watching to see how many of the fawns survive the summer.

A previous study found 54 per cent of fawns don't make it to fall, but last year, only 30 per cent died.

Cumberland says that may mean a healthier deer population in New Brunswick.


RESEARCH NEWS: CWD Prion More Infectious Than Previously Thought

New research shows that the prion — a mysterious infectious agent that is neither bacterium nor virus — is 700 times more infectious when combined with common minerals found in dirt.

Not only is the prion an abnormal protein that can devastate infected animals and humans — it has has been compared to an alien due to its virtual indestructibility, its unusual ability to replicate itself and its propensity for eating away at the brain — but it may live on and remain virulent in the soil itself.

The finding is important to hunters across the country, as chronic wasting disease continues to spread in wild deer herds. It also has important implications for cattle and sheep farmers, as mad cow disease in cows and scrapie in sheep are also caused by prions.

As for humans, the implications for illness– known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — is unknown. While serious disease among humans has been tied to the eating of meat from diseased cows, no such links have been made between venison and human health, and hunters are well informed about steps needed to reduce the risk of transmission.