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Deer that are dying of CWD don’t have a single thing in common with the popularized image of zombies. In the late stages of the syndrome, you’re talking about an animal that can barely stand much less get aggressive. But deer in the wild, outside of captive laboratory observation, rarely reach that stage. Research shows CWD-infected deer start suffering higher mortality rates from predators, vehicles, and other diseases long before they start showing outward signs of CWD itself. So, even a hunting media outlet that shows a photo of a skin-and-bones deer as an example of a ‘CWD deer’ is misleading its readers.

Deer can be infected with and spread CWD to other deer for one to two years before they begin to show visible signs of infection. So, the vast majority of CWD-infected deer that the public and hunters encounter will look completely healthy and appear to behave normally.”

It’s worth noting that the term “zombie deer” is almost always used in quotation marks in major media stories. However, I have not been able to find the original source of this term, meaning the scientist or research paper that called a CWD-infected deer a “zombie deer.” So, who are these news outlets actually quoting? For example, The Independent wrote this as its lede in a 2019 story: “Scientists have warned that ‘zombie deer’ are spreading across America and there is nothing that can be done to stop them.”

I was not able to find a single credible scientist quoted as saying that directly, and I bet that you won’t be able to either. So, who did start calling CWD-infected deer “zombie deer”? These days it seems like every news story about CWD references zombies. But going back, I found a surge of stories referencing “zombie deer” in early spring 2019 when Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, testified before state lawmakers about the possibility of the disease one day spreading to humans.

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However, a few weeks before those stories broke, Livescience.Com published a story titled “Could ‘Zombie Deer’ Disease Spread to Humans?” on January 23, 2018. That story links to a Livescience.Com opinion piece from 2013 which reads “state wildlife managers are deeply concerned that these zombie deer will infect free-roaming deer…”

This op-ed was written by Wayne Pacelle, the former President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, one of the most powerful anti-hunting organizations in the country. Pacelle eventually resigned from the HSUS amid sexual harassment allegations, but when this opinion piece was published in 2013, he was still the face of the organization.




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