Hikers have been warned about a new “zombie virus” running rampant in the animal world, causing beasts to lose their fear of humans.
The shocking warning has come from officials at Yellowstone National Park in the United States after a deer was found dead in the park. The animal tested positive for chronic wasting disease which is contagious, fatal disease of deer, elk and moose caused by a “malformed protein” for which there is no vaccine or known treatment.
The virus takes over the host's brain, causing bizarre physiological conditions and behavioural changes, eventually leading to the infected animal not eating before starving itself to death. Although there is no evidence that it can transfer to humans, infected animal flesh is sometimes picked up by unwitting park goers and cooked for their own pleasure.
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A Park spokesman said: “This is the first confirmed positive detection of the disease in Yellowstone National Park. The mule deer buck was originally captured by WGFD staff near Cody, Wyoming, in March 2023 as part of a population dynamics study and fitted with a GPS collar.
“The collar signalled the animal died mid-October 2023. In coordination with Yellowstone staff, WGFD located the carcass on the Promontory, a landmass that separates the South and Southeast arms of Yellowstone Lake and collected samples for testing. The samples tested positive for CWD based on multiple diagnostic tests performed at WGFD’s Wildlife Health Laboratory.
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“If you see any sick or dead wildlife, notify a National Park Service (NPS) employee as soon as possible and avoid contact with the animal. Avoid touching or handling sick or dead wild animals as some disease-causing organisms can be passed between wild animals and people.”
Park officials did clarify that, while there is currently no evidence that CWD can infect humans or domestic animal species, it is recommended that tissues from CWD-infected animals not be consumed. Park officials are now sorting out a new CWD surveillance plan, which it hopes to have ready at some point in 2024.
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