There are many reasons people visit the nation’s national parks. Some people use the parks as an opportunity to have a quiet place to think. Others enjoy the rugged activities the wilderness supplies. But one of the biggest attractions for visitors is the wildlife.

That wildlife is now in jeopardy. Yellowstone National Park officials and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) have confirmed an adult mule deer buck has died of chronic wasting disease (CWD). This is the first documented case within Yellowstone National Park boundaries.

How Was the Deer Discovered in 3,471 Square Miles of Park?

The buck had been fitted with a GPS collar in March of 2023 as part of a study. When the buck died in mid-October, the collar emitted a signal. WGFD and Yellowstone staff recovered the carcass near Yellowstone Lake. After taking samples and running diagnostic tests at WGFD;s Wildlife Health Laboratory, CWD was confirmed.

This terrible disease causes distinct behaviors and death in deer, moose, and elk. Listlessness, weight loss, excessive drooling, increased drinking and urinating, and head lowering are the noticeable symptoms. These behaviors have led to it being called ‘zombie deer disease’. It can be spread by animal-to-animal contact or from contact with feces, soil, or vegetation that an infected animal touched.

What Visitors Need to Do Now When Visiting Yellowstone

Yellowstone and WGFD staff are trying to figure out what to do next. While officials work on a strategy, there are some precautions visitors to the area should take. If a sick or dead animal is encountered, contact a National Park Service employee. Do not touch sick or dead wild animals. While there is no evidence that CWD can harm humans, It is not recommended for people to consume animals that are believed to have had CWD.

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