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Wildlife

Elk tested for brucellosis

Written by Cat Urbigkit
Pinedale – The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (G&F) proceeded forward with the third year of testing members of the Pinedale Elk Herd for brucellosis, and sending test-positive animals to slaughter this past week.
    Elk have been trapped and bled for brucellosis testing during the last two winters at the Muddy Creek elk feedground near Boulder, but this year the program expanded to include a testing program at the Fall Creek feedground, which is also located along the western flank of the Wind River Mountains near Pinedale. During the first two years of testing, 71 cow elk were removed after testing seropositive for the disease.
    After baiting the traps at Muddy Creek and Fall Creek on Monday, the elk declined to cooperate and the trap efforts were called off for the day. To the surprise of the handling crew on Tuesday morning, when they arrived to try the trap again, they found the elk had entered the trap during the night, somehow severing the rope keeping the trap gate open, resulting in about 300 elk trapping themselves. Tuesday’s capture was the largest group of elk worked by the agency in one of the traps. It was a cold morning and this bunch of rowdy elk jumped in the squeeze chutes, kicked anything made of plywood, and even managed to collapse an interior portion of the trap. Luckily, no one was injured in a long day of bleeding elk for brucellosis testing.
    But with more than 20 big bulls in the trap, some of the other elk didn’t fare too well. In total eight elk were killed, mostly due to being gored or trampled, or stress-related death. The bulls were tranquilized and removed from the trap so the cows and calves could be handled safely.
    Of the 184 adult cow elk that were bled for testing and held overnight, 20 tested seropositive for brucellosis. Two of these were cows that had been euthanized, but the remaining 18 were shipped to a USDA-inspected facility in eastern Idaho for slaughter on Wednesday morning. A team of scientists was slated to travel to Idaho to collect tissue samples for further testing.
    The trap was triggered by G&F personnel at the Muddy Creek feedground on Wednesday morning, with about 200 elk captured inside. Of the captive elk, 112 were test-eligible females. As the testing crew finished work for the day Wednesday and began moving the cow elk into the larger pod of the trap for holding overnight while awaiting test results, a large group of elk crowded against a gate, and it failed, resulting in the release of about 40 elk back onto the feedground. These cows are all wearing rubber neck collars with numbers corresponding to the blood samples, allowing for fairly easy identification of any animals that test positive for the disease. In years past, a few elk that were accidentally released from the trap and tested sero-positive were shot on the feedlines. Results of Wednesday’s testing effort weren’t available when this article was written. G&F officials said they would re-evaluate what to do about the escapees once the lab results were in hand.
    This test-and-removal program is a five-year pilot project geared to reduce the brucellosis rate in the elk herd while reducing the risk of transmitting the disease to cattle. It was a key recommendation of the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team.
    Cat Urbigkit is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.