At the Grand Portage Preserve in northern Minnesota, researchers are administering COVID tests to bears, moose, deer and wolves in an effort to find out the prevalence of the virus in native wildlife. SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans-has already been widely documented in white-tailed deer in Iowa, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources confirmed its first case of COVID in a mule deer doe just this week. The virus has been found in domestic cats and dogs, zoo animals such as gorillas and snow leopards and farmed minks. With 25 states reporting cases of SARS in wildlife, understanding the extent of the virus, monitoring for potential viral mutations and avoiding potential transmissions of the latest strains seem like logical next steps.
“If the virus can settle in a wild animal reservoir, it will still be on the market with the risk of spreading again to human inhabitants”” said Matthew Aliota, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. He defined that through their work, researchers and wildlife specialists hope to learn how the virus acts and evolves within wild animal populations.
As soon as an animal is located for a check, the workforce uses a wide range of techniques to seize it: tranquilizer darts for moose, aerial nets and ground traps for wolves and deer-and, for some bears, a detailed encounter of their dens during their hibernation. As soon as the samples are taken, they are sent to Aliota’s laboratory in Saint Paul, where he hopes to establish which animals can act as “relay species” and transmit the disease to others. All members of the collection workforce are fully vaccinated and reinforced, and they are examined often to limit any transmission of the virus to the wildlife they sample.
“If we consider that there are a lot of species that usually mix to some extent, their patterns and actions can exponentially improve the amount of transmission that could occur”” said E. J. Isaac, the reserve’s fish and wildlife biologist.
Viruses like SARS mutate with a view to entering an animal’s cells and replicating earlier than mutating once more—enough to “have a key that matches the human lock” that “allows it to jump to people again through direct contact with other animals”” in response to the AP.
Read more: First feasible case of Deer spreading COVID-19 to a Human found in Canada
So, what does this mean for the upcoming spring and autumn seasons? To begin with, hunters should conduct hunter training and apply clear methods of dressing in the field and handling meat.
“We have identified for a very long time that deer and different wild species, and even our pets, can contract and be carriers of SARS-CoV-2. The CDC states at this time that the risk of pets spreading it to people is low,” Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the national deer affiliate, wrote in an email to Out of doors Life. “Nevertheless, the World Well being Group recently recognized that the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into wildlife could lead to the creation of animal reservoirs, which can also be vital.”
Given this risk, test sets like the one at Grand Portage will likely be expanded elsewhere to include other wildlife species. Global organizations such as the World Animal Welfare Group are urging countries around the world to prioritize COVID surveillance in animals, as specialists say the risk posed by the virus does not seem to be disappearing quickly.
“We are encroaching on animal habitats like we have never done before”” Aliota said. “Unfortunately, I think that the opportunities for wild animals to overflow into humans will expand with every frequency and scope.”