Providing Peace of Mind to Deer Farmers

By: Gail Veley
Originally appeared in the September 2019 Issue of the Upper Midwest Cervid Newsletter


CHeRI: Cervidae Health Research Initiative

A team of dedicated research scientists and doctors are helping Florida deer farmers understand specific causes of death in their cervid livestock. These scientists and doctors, part of the Cervid Health Research Initiative (CHeRI), are providing diagnostic assays/necropsies free-of-charge to Florida cervid farmers as a way to gain a deeper understanding of cervid diseases and develop vaccines.

"We don’t know a lot about cervid disease and with farmed animals we have much easier access to them,” explained CHeRI Scientist Dr. Samantha Wisely. Last year, 45 Florida deer farms provided deceased deer for testing. "We have learned so much more from farmed deer because of this." Dr. Wisely said. “There can be a lot of presumptions made on behalf of a farmer as to why a deer died. However, with our necropsies we can give farmers scientific reasons including consultations from veterinarians.” This past March, CHeRI performed it's 1,000th farmed deer necropsy.

“We do not test for chronic wasting disease,” Dr. Wisely emphasized. “We are very focused on epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and blue tongue." In fact, over the past three years, Wisely, Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Juan Campos and their CHeRI colleagues have discovered seven new cervid diseases, all of which could be mistaken for EHD or blue tongue. “A farmer could presume EHD was the cause of death when in fact it might not be," Dr. Wisely added.

The necropsy service provided through CHeRl began in 2015, after the group received seed funding from the Florida state legislature to perpetuate the production of whitetail deer. As a result of the necropsy program. CHeRI has created a live-culture library of discovered strain of EHD as well as new EHD strains that keep occurring. CHeRl is comprised of seven individual laboratories located at the University of Florida which test for bacteria and viruses, grow viruses and isolate cultures while also providing full genome sequencing of viruses. "When we are lucky, we have a full picture,” Dr. Wisely said. “We let you know within 48 hours if you have a highly infectious disease (such as EHD) and you need to take additional measures with your herd.”

“Some farmers really want to know why their deer died and have really thanked us for providing closure,” Dr. Wisely said. “We feel very gratified that farmers are super excited about potential vaccines and whether or not they would be efficacious (effective),” To this end the scientists at CHeRI remain very focused on developing effective vaccines to combat cervid diseases. In addition, they also publish case studies but withhold the name of any involved farm. While they work specifically with Florida deer farmers, the possibility of expanding beyond the state's borders is being discussed.

Wisely, a native of Los Angeles, California, moved to Florida in 2012 to join the University of Florida research team. She is appreciative of the enthusiasm and support shown by the Southeast Trophy Deer Association (SETDA) for CHeRl. If farmers have a loss on their farms, both SETDA and CHeRI encourage them to call the loss hotline at 352-562-3337 (DEER).

Deer farmers are also encouraged to visit the CHeRI website at for guidelines on submitting samples or to stay abreast of any upcoming seminars or symposiums on cervid health. All wildlife enthusiasts. veterinarians and deer industry professionals are encouraged to participate. CHeRl also accepts donations in order to build a Cervid Health Research and Education Center which will further their goals of increasing the health and production of farmed cervids.