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Catastrophic Zombie Deer Disease Arrives in Florida

“This is going to change the nature of how we manage deer in Florida forever,” said a UF/IFAS professor.

HOLMES COUNTY, FLORIDA — The State of Florida has confirmed its first case of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) for deer in Holmes County, near the Alabama state line in the Panhandle.

A white-tail deer was spotted alongside a highway and tested positive for CWD.


CWD is a “disease of the brain and central nervous system that is fatal to deer,” according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute stated there is no treatment for the disease and it nearly always leads to the deer’s death. It causes the deer’s brain to, in essence, rot along with its central nervous system causing the deer to take on zombie-like external characteristics akin to rabid racoons where the animal loses its fear of people.

The disease is more common in male deer – primarily due to larger migration distances traveled and increased interaction during mating season.  

CWD can be transmitted by deer touching nose to nose. It can also be found in foliage along with ticks that jump from deer to deer.


Florida’s deer farming industry is fourth largest in the Union.

Samantha Wisely, professor in the UF/IFAS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department and member of the Emerging Pathogens Institute, said they were “dismayed” when hearing about the disease’s arrival to Florida.

“This is going to change the nature of how we manage deer in Florida forever,” Wisely said.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said they are working “diligently” in order to “safeguard our agriculture industry and our world-renowned wildlife and natural resources.”


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) is issuing new regulations by executive order for deer farmers and sportsmen for how to contain the spread of the disease.

The FWC has established a CWD Management Zone that includes portions of Holmes, Jackson, and Washington counties north of I-10. This is where the new regulations apply.

Within the zone, “no person shall export the carcass or parts thereof of any species in the family Cervidae (deer) originating from within the CWD Management Zone except:”

  • boned-out meat or products thereof;
  • clean hides with no head attached;
  • antlers with a clean skull plate with no tissue attached or clean skulls with

no tissue attached;

  • finished taxidermy products; and
  • clean teeth with no tissue attached.

Along with regulations related to the placement of grain, salt products and minerals out for deer, no orphaned or injured white-tailed deer may be released back into the CWD.

Deer farmers have previously been asked to quarantine their herds for as long as five years, according to UF’s recent report.


Since the first case was confirmed, the Florida Department of Agriculture has increased communication between captive deer facilities and reviewed transportation permits for deer in and out of the CWD zone to other facilities.

They have also issued a quarantine for all captive deer within the management zone.

The state will also be working to collect samples from the zone to further assess any spread of the disease.