Reindeer Banned as U.S. States Fight Brain Disease

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Asked why reindeer were included in the state ban, even though they have never exhibited the disease, Gilson replied, "We chose to use a broad brush because most reindeer breeders also raise other species. Also, we needed the world to know that we were taking this very seriously [and] not taking chances."

Reindeer Breeders Hope to See Restrictions Eased

Wisconsin reindeer breeder Tom Scheib understands the concern of wildlife agencies, but said he hopes to see changes to their current approach.

"When they instituted a lockdown and banned all cervids, you're talking about some 38 species of deer," he said. "To date, only four have contracted CWD and all four of those species are native to North America—unlike my reindeer."

"I will support any disease program that's reasonable, logical, and scientific. I have absolutely no problem with that," Scheib said. "But I get a little hot when bureaucrats want to stop my animals from moving [when] it's a species that has never exhibited this disease."

"If I have some exhibition reindeer standing in front of a performance of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, how are they going to come into contact with a herd of native whitetail deer?" he asked.

Scheib pointed out that many states that ban the import of all live cervids, even species that have not exhibited chronic wasting disease, allow hunters to harvest susceptible species from confirmed disease areas like Colorado and bring the carcasses home as trophies.

Some state agencies have maintained that they have no legal jurisdiction over dead animals or that the movement of butchered animals does not pose a significant disease threat. Testing is underway to determine if susceptible species can acquire CWD from the carcasses of infected animals.

The current situation has created a holiday nightmare for many reindeer farmers.

"We recognize that this is going to create financial hardships for reindeer farmers this year," said Feaser. "But what we're trying to do here…will ensure a degree of protection for them and for their livestock [in the future]."

"We're looking at the same 40-acre field from a different tree," said Scheib. "So we somehow have to try to work out what's best everyone. We have the same goals, but we don't always agree on the methods."

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