After receiving what’s been called “brutal and unambiguous” advice from veterinary experts, Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale told Norway’s food safety and animal welfare authorities this week to prepare for the country’s largest mass slaughter ever. An entire herd of wild reindeer must be eliminated, they claim, to prevent the further spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD).
Officials feared earlier this year that such a slaughter was unavoidable. The highly contagious disease that attacks animals’ brains was first detected last summer among the several thousand wild reindeer that roam the mountains of Nordfjella between Buskerud, Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane.
It was later found to have spread within the Nordfjella herd and was also found in two moose at Selbu. Officials at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) fear the disease has already spread to wild reindeer on the mountain plateau of Hardangervidda, despite fencing efforts to separate the herds.
An expert evaluation delivered on Wednesday to government officials contained gloomy prospects. “If the authorities want to eradicate the disease, we have a golden opportunity now,” researcher Bjørnar Ytrehus told state broadcaster NRK, since the experts think the disease remains contained to the northerly areas of Nordfjella. “If the goal is to do that, the best solution is to shoot down the entire herd.”
Officials in the affected areas, including the mayor of Lærdal, have now hired a coordinator for a mass hunt and slaughter. They’ll meet with both Dale and Norway’s minister for the environment, Vidar Helgesen, before a final decision to carry out the slaughter is made.