IA DNR: Elk killed in Crawford County to be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease

Ag/Outdoor, News, Sports

December 8th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said Thursday Wildlife biologists killed an elk Wednesday in Crawford County, near Charter Oak. Testing is being done on the elk for chronic wasting disease (CWD), brucellosis and tuberculosis. The animal was killed to protect the health and welfare of the state’s deer herd and domestic livestock.

Dale Garner, chief of the DNR’s wildlife bureau, said “We don’t like having to kill the animal, but at this time, the most reliable method of testing for CWD is from the brain stem which involves putting the animal down.”  Garner added that the department tests thousands of brain stems each year from harvested deer for the disease.

The animal was located by local deer hunters who contacted the DNR. Officials say the hunters were very helpful in keeping tabs on the animal while notification was made to the State Veterinarian’s office with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to make sure the elk was not an escapee from a local owner.

If the results are negative the meat from the animal will be processed and donated to charitable organizations. Garner said their top concern,  “Is for the health of the state’s deer herd and for domestic livestock. Because once chronic wasting disease (CWD) or bovine tuberculosis (TB) is out there, there is no going back.  For the most part, there will be no happy ending to this situation.”

CWD is a neurological disease affecting cervids, primarily deer and elk. It is caused by an abnormal protein, called a prion that attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior and lose bodily functions. Signs include excessive salivation, thirst and urination, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head.

When an elk sighting report comes in, the DNR works with IDALS to determine status of elk and the best available options. If the elk can be returned to the proper owners, then they are.  If not, they then pose a risk to spreading CWD and/or other diseases and are dispatched.  The elk are tested for CWD and if the tests are negative, the meat is donated to local needy families or a food bank.

Garner says “Having these escapees is more than a minor irritation.  The prion linked to CWD does not go away when the infected animal dies.  It stays active in the soil and contaminated soil can infect other animals. Like CWD, TB is extremely difficult to get rid of and could cost billions of dollars to the livestock industry.”

Garner said Iowa does not have the large land areas typically needed to support an elk herd.  Elk are two to three times the size of an Iowa white tail, averaging between 500 to 700 pounds.