‘Zombie deer disease’ has spread to 2 provinces and 24 states – National

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An infectious disease often referred to as “zombie deer disease” has shown up in two Canadian provinces and at least 24 states, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned, with a potential risk it could spread to humans.


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Symptoms of chronic wasting disease (CWD) for animals include stumbling, lack of coordination, drooling, drooping ears, aggression, listlessness, drastic weight loss, excessive thirst or urination, and lack of fear of people.

The disease belongs to a family of diseases called prion diseases, which includes the human form of “mad cow disease.”

CWD was first identified in the late 1960s in Colorado and has spread since 2000.

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There have been no reported cases of the disease in people, but studies have shown that CWD can pose a risk to non-human primates, such as monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with their body fluids, according to CDC.

CDC says experimental studies “raise the concern that CWD may pose a risk to people and suggest that it is important to prevent human exposures to CWD.”

The disease generally transmits between animals through body fluids and has been found to be contagious within deer and elk populations.


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If it were spread to people, it would most likely be through eating infected deer or elk, but CDC says it is not known if people can get infected with CWD.

Currently, the disease occurs in free-range deer and elk at relatively low rates, but in areas where it is established the infection rate may exceed 10 per cent and localized infection rates of more than 25 per cent have been reported, according to CDC.

Infection rates in captive deer have been higher, with a rate of 79 per cent reported from at least one captive herd.

CDC recommends hunters test animals for CWD before eating them in areas where the disease is known to be present, and to not shoot or handle meat from deer that look strange or are acting strangely.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Spread of invasive species in Canada costs billions

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For two decades experts have been carefully nursing a community of endangered northern leopard frogs in B.C.’s Kootenay region but invasive bullfrogs and fish threaten to muscle in, potentially swallowing years of work.

Purnima Govindarajulu, a small mammal and herpetofauna specialist at B.C.’s Ministry of Environment, said disease and invasive fish already mean the endangered frogs aren’t thriving as they should be in a wetland in Creston.

More concerning to her is that a mass of bullfrog eggs was recently missed in a lake just 15 kilometres away, and Govindarajulu said teams in Canada and the United States are preparing to do battle with the voracious bullfrog to prevent its spread.

« We call it the American bullfrog action team, » she said, lowering her voice with mock authority.

« The defenders of the northern leopard frog, » she added with a chuckle.

Bullfrogs overtake parts of B.C.

Bullfrogs are native to parts of Central and Eastern Canada and are even on the decline in some areas, but they have overtaken parts of southern B.C. and are known to eat native fish, frogs, salamanders, snakes, birds and turtles.

So not only do invasive species take over our natural environment, they actually threaten species at risk– Gail Wallin, Canadian Council on Invasive Species

Experts say the plight of the spotted frog is one of many examples of how invasive species can overtake an area, squeeze out existing plants or animals, create a lasting scar on the landscape and impose huge costs on the Canadian economy.

A common thread to the threat to many of Canada’s species at risk are invasive species, said Gail Wallin, executive director of the Canadian Council on Invasive Species.

« So not only do invasive species take over our natural environment, they actually threaten species at risk. They have a major environmental impact. »

Conservation Lands Planner Victoria Maines, left, and Natural Heritage Ecologist Charlotte Cox walk through a patch of giant hogweed in Terra Cotta, Ont. Alien invaders have gained a toehold on federal lands, (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Invasive species like giant hogweed, zebra mussels and knot weed can overwhelm entire ecosystems, stripping lakes, valleys and cities of wildlife and vegetation.

Invasive plant species muscle out native plants

A 2008 report by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said there were at least 486 invasive alien plant species alone in Canada.

The cost of battling or holding back invasive species is incalculable, Wallin said, pointing out that every level of government, homeowners, farmers, businesses and other groups spend money on the fight.

The annual economic impacts on agriculture, crops and forestry is estimated at $7.5 billion, she said.

« When we look at these huge economic costs, we have to recognize that we’re only looking at samples, we’re not looking at all the costs of the total number of invasive species in Canada, » Wallin said.

David Nisbet, manager of partnership and science at the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., said putting a price tag on the issue is difficult because an invasive species can set off all kinds of actions and reactions. When pests kill trees it can change the oxygen supply, prompt flooding, reshape the neighbourhood canopy and cost homeowners or a city for replacements, he said.

Recent surveys by the centre on spending in Ontario shows an average municipal cost of $381,000 a year.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency classifies invasive species as plants, animals and micro-organisms in an area where they’ve never been before. They can adapt, spread quickly and don’t have natural predators in their new environment.

Emerald ash borer ravages ash trees

Insects like the emerald ash borer, which kills ash trees, have ravaged hundreds of thousands of hectares of Ontario’s forests. Giant hog weed with its highly toxic sap has taken over entire valleys in B.C. and nematodes have had devastating impacts on Canadian crops.

Municipalities in Ontario are spending a lot of money to battle the emerald ash borer. (Laraine Weschler/Republican-American/Associated Press)

Most invasive species are moved by people, Wallin said, adding that’s a focus of their education.

Hogweed was brought in as a garden plant. Firewood moved between campsites also transports pests. Boaters carry Eurasian milfoil or zebra and quagga mussels with them when they change lakes, she said.

Some of the largest factors in the spread and introduction of invasive species are trade and travel, Wallin said. Bugs can hide in untreated pallets and tourists may bring something back intentionally or not.

« We’ve got way more trade coming in now so we need to be more conscious of that. Other countries have new regulations in place, making sure that before you ship into our countries that your cargo is clean of invasive species, » Wallin said.

« We can do more than what we do now. It’s a big world and we’re all travelling. So yes, regulation will be really important. »

Raising awareness

The problems spread because people aren’t aware of the risks, said Nisbet.

« They don’t have a negative intent in mind. We should try not to place the blame on Canadians who just aren’t aware, we try to place a lot of effort in raising that awareness. »

Govindarajulu said many people don’t realize it’s illegal to move or remove frogs from their environment and it’s also against the Wildlife Act to bring them back because they could be introducing disease into the rest of the population.

The American bullfrog is a heavyweight who muscles out native species. (Utah Dept. of Wildlife Resources/Associated Press)

« Often it’s children and often people mean well. It’s not like they’re being vindictive, they want to help frogs and they think they are. »

The Invasive Species Centre runs a citizen science program in Ontario, training those interested to identify a problem before it spreads. Nisbet said the program has been helpful with people reporting their suspicions and findings around the province.

The lesson is to take action, he said.

« Whether it’s cleaning your gear after you go boating, or if you go hiking, cleaning your boots, cleaning your pets, getting all the seeds and plant material off, buying local firewood, buying native plants, just taking these sorts of actions to prevent the spread of invasive species further. »

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The double-edged sword of how social media spread the St. Mike’s scandal

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Teenagers sharing, with little thought or effort, video clips of St. Michael’s College School students brutalizing each other makes Glen Canning think of his daughter.

“It’s inexcusable, it’s death by a thousand cuts, and it has terrible consequences,” Canning says of the viral spread, from teen’s phone to teen’s phone, of images of “absolute cruelty” involving clearly identifiable victims.

“I think about the kids who shared Rehtaeh’s photo and wonder what they think about that — it contributed to her death — and how that must feel. It’s awful.”

Rehtaeh Parsons, his 17-year-old daughter, killed herself in 2013 after prolonged bullying and shame fanned by the spread of a 2011 photo through her Nova Scotia hometown. It showed her at a party vomiting out a window while a teen had sex with her.

Rehtaeh said she was sexually assaulted. The boy said it was consensual. He was convicted only of distributing child pornography for sharing the photo with friends.

“I spend my time trying to get young people to speak up, to not be a bystander just taking out a phone and recording — that’s participating,” he says.

“What’s happening now speaks volumes to failures in the system — with the kids, with the school and with the parents, who have to become more involved in what their kids are up to.”

While many people are shocked at the digitally documented and shared abuse at the storied private school, emerging details are familiar to experts in teen bullying, hazing and social media use.

“There appears to be dominance, control over others and a lack of empathy in the kind of hypermasculine environment that can lead to bullying and violence,” says Roy Gillis, a University of Toronto associate professor of psychology.

The case shows the “kind of naive oversharing going on, particularly on social media, by young people. In cases like this it multiplies the humiliation of the target.”

The other side of the social media coin is that recording and sharing abuse has made student-on-student hazings and assaults, which have happened at different types of schools for many decades, discoverable and undeniable.

“The exposure does shine a light on the problem,” Gillis says, adding he hopes it leads to prevention programs; better supervision of locker rooms and other high-risk areas; teacher training on helping sexual assault victims; and knowledge such abuse must be immediately reported to police — something St. Mike’s failed to do.

“It’s a wake-up call to all of us to protect our students.”

St. Mike’s has announced it is launching an independent review of student culture in the wake of the incidents.

The school is also hiring a full-time social worker and four security guards to patrol the washrooms and locker room and has created an anonymous voicemail line for students to report inappropriate behaviour.

Toronto police Det. Sgt. Paul Krawczyk of the sex crimes unit has publicly warned anyone possessing the St. Mike’s videos to delete anything that qualifies as child pornography, hopefully stopping their viral spread.

In an interview he notes that today’s teens grew up with smartphones and are accustomed to pulling them out to record all manner of events.

“They can’t wait to show it to someone else, maybe be the first to share,” photos and videos rather than process the reality in front of them, he says. “The same goes for traffic accidents. Why is it the instinct for many people now to record the victim of an accident instead of helping?”

Krawczyk says he uses such scandals to talk to his own children “about what my expectations are and I ask if they have any questions. I think many parents let devices be their babysitter and don’t really talk to their kids about these things.

“The children have to know that they can speak to their parents without them freaking out or automatically taking their electronic devices away from them.

“Kids also need to know that what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong. Plain and simple. If it is wrong, put a stop to it. Say something. You are part of the problem if you don’t say anything.”

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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Parasite spread by cats threatens Quebec’s endangered belugas, study shows

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Endangered beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River already facing plenty of adversity now have an unlikely foe to contend with — the common house cat.

A new study suggests the belugas are being increasingly infected with a parasite known as toxoplasma gondii, transmitted through the feces of cats.

Stéphane Lair, a professor of veterinary medicine at the Université de Montréal and one of the study’s authors, said of 34 beluga whale carcasses examined between 2009 and 2012, 44 per cent were found to be infected with the parasite.

« It doesn’t mean they died of this parasite. It means there was a presence either in their heart or their brain, » Lair said on Monday.

« We know that it’s a parasite that can kill belugas, so its presence can have an impact on their lives. »

Toxoplasmosis — the disease caused by the parasite — is increasingly prevalent in a wide range of marine mammals. It is spread by wild and domesticated cats, which contract it by eating rodents.

In marine mammals, it may cause neurological problems and behavioural change.

A beluga whale shows his tail near Tadoussac, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

« Marine animals in North America have been in contact with this parasite for thousands of years, » Lair said. In 2014, the cat parasite was found in Arctic belugas, likely spread by wild cats such as lynx, bobcats and cougars.

« The big difference in the last few centuries is the introduction of domestic cats — a new definitive host for the parasite that probably has contributed to an increase in the amount of toxoplasma those mammals are exposed to, » the veterinarian said.

Another reason to keep cats indoors

Toxoplasmosis is associated with mortality in marine animals all over the world. Lair pointed to the example of the endangered monk seals of Hawaii, 11 of which have died from the disease since 2001.

In the past 30 years, seven St. Lawrence beluga deaths have been linked to the parasite. But there are other effects that need further study.

« In a lot of species, there’s a big question about the sub-lethal effect of that parasite — it means that it might not necessarily kill the animal … but when present, it can have a health impact that’s not always detectable, » Lair said.

At last count, about 900 belugas lived in the St. Lawrence estuary.

As for dealing with the problem, Lair said keeping domestic cats indoors prevents them from eating infected prey.

Also, ensuring cat feces are not flushed down the toilet would reduce parasite levels in the water.

« The parasite is quite resistant, it would survive all the different [sewage] treatments and end up in the estuary, » Lair said.

The research was published in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms last month.

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Church sign meant to spread word of God sparks rights complaint

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A United Church minister in west-end Toronto is pitted against a Christian business owner over an outdoor signboard used to spread the word of God.

In a rare complaint filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission on Wednesday, Rev. Alexa Gilmour, minister of Windermere United Church, alleges Archer Mobile Signs refused to post a message encouraging people to “wish your Muslim neighbours a Ramadan Mubarak (Happy Ramadan)” and another that promoted the celebration of diversity during Pride Week.

United Church minister Rev. Alexa Gilmour has filed a human rights complaint against a signboard company saying its owner refused to post messages he views as contrary to his religious beliefs.
United Church minister Rev. Alexa Gilmour has filed a human rights complaint against a signboard company saying its owner refused to post messages he views as contrary to his religious beliefs.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

“Interfaith dialogue and action is a central part of my faith and ministry,” Gilmour told the Star. “If Windermere United cannot post the messages we choose, then we cannot do the ministry we feel called by God to do.”

According to the human rights complaint, the church had rented a mobile sign from Archer Mobile Signs since 2012 and its owner, Steven Thompson, was responsible for updating the text on the sign every week.

One side of the sign generally displayed announcements about church life and events, while the other displayed a message of faith, entitled “This Week’s Spiritual Exercise,” that was authored by Gilmour as “an expression of my faith and an act of Christian ministry.” Gilmour or her staff would dictate the weekly text to Thompson by phone or email.

In the past, there had been disagreements over some of the messages on the signs, but Gilmour said the two instances flagged in the human rights complaint were the first in which he clearly defined his reasons for objecting to the minister’s choice of words.

In May, Gilmour claimed, church administrator Michelle Maldonado wrote to Thompson and requested the Ramadan message. However, Thompson only updated the announcement on the board and refused to put up the Muslim greeting.

In an email from Thompson dated May 16 that was included in Gilmour’s human rights submission, he said he found himself confused by Gilmour’s spiritual message.

“I am all for befriending Muslims in order to reach them for Christ … There is a sense in which your spiritual exercise goes beyond wishing Muslims well, to actually encouraging them in their ideology. I have no problem with wishing them well, but I would violate my own conscience before God to encourage them in their pursuit of Allah,” according Thompson’s email.

“Because I do not see any support in the scriptures to encourage anyone in a false ideology, Islam or otherwise, I must refrain from posting your spiritual exercise. For me, this would be a sin.”

Thompson did not respond to several requests from the Star for comment and waved off a reporter who approached him in person.

The church’s allegations have not been proven. As part of the human rights process, Thompson has 35 days to respond to the complaint. He has not yet filed a response.

Gilmour said she respects Thompson’s right to his opinions and did not ask him to give up his beliefs and embrace hers, but she said he has no right to censor her religious values.

A spring message on a Windermere United Church signboard urged passersby to "Spend time watching cherry blossoms bloom."
A spring message on a Windermere United Church signboard urged passersby to « Spend time watching cherry blossoms bloom. »

“People may say it’s just a sign,” said Gilmour, “but I use the sign to post my messages of welcome and inclusion.”

Gilmour pointed out to Thompson that he had not objected to prior interfaith messages to the Jewish community (Happy Chanukah) or people of African heritage (Happy Kwanzaa).

In his email reply, Thompson explained he had concerns about his signs being vandalized and that he has the right to refuse to let customers “say what they want’ and to “limit messaging on an Archer Sign where a threat is deemed possible.”

According to Gilmour, Thompson proposed alternatives to her message such as “Wish your Muslim neighbour well,” “befriend a Muslim” or “Invite a Muslim over for dinner” to avoid the “trigger word” Ramadan.

But Gilmour refused the suggestion because “we wish to acknowledge this holy time in the Islamic calendar and believe that treating the faith traditions differently is prejudicial and possibly racist.” Thompson then reportedly said the continued sign rental was contingent on the church accepting his company’s discretion to control its messaging, and mentioned that the placement of the mobile signs at Windermere violated city bylaw.

The minister also asked Thompson if he would post the message “Celebrate God’s diverse LGBTQ2S community with Pride” in June. According to the complaint, Thompson responded: “I think you have an idea as to my view of scripture.”

In mid-June, Thompson emailed the church to say he was removing the sign on the front lawn of the church, at Windermere Ave. and Bloor St. W., in order to comply with municipal code.

City rules on mobile signs specify they cannot be on the public right of way, such as sidewalks or boulevards. Gilmour said she believed the sign was in compliance with the bylaw.

The United Church of Canada is known for championing interfaith relations and gay rights, values that Gilmour said she always stands by.

“It’s not acceptable for a service provider to limit the way I express my Christian ministry,” she said. “I’m taking this step only because many attempts to resolve this issue through dialogue or mediation have failed.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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