Elk Brucellosis Research Continues

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The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is again testing elk for brucellosis this winter in a study to more accurately diagnose brucellosis in elk blood samples.

The study, a cooperative effort among the University of Wyoming, Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory and Game and Fish, will require euthanizing up to 15 cow elk at Dell Creek Feedground.

"We’re ultimately trying to find a better predictor of brucellosis culture positive elk," said Hank Edwards, Game and Fish wildlife disease specialist. "Unfortunately, the only way to tell if these elk really have brucellosis is to culture tissues from a necropsy."

The elk will be euthanized with the most humane techniques available.

Currently, blood samples from captured elk will only show if the animal has been exposed to Brucella abortus. A tissue culture will determine if the animal is actually infected and capable of transmitting the disease. Managers are further using this opportunity to attain necropsy samples for research on herd health, seroprevalence or past exposure to diseases by detecting antibodies, DNA fingerprinting techniques and the development of new tests to identify brucellosis.

In addition, progressive new research is beginning this year, examining the importance of habitat in relation to brucellosis seroprevalence and transmission. This research, a cooperative effort among Game and Fish, UW and Iowa State University, will take place in northwestern Wyoming this month.

Researchers will attempt to capture 50 elk at each of three state feedgrounds and 30 elk that spend the winter on native winter range in Buffalo Valley. The three feedgrounds: Scab Creek, Soda Lake and Bench Corral, have varying degrees of habitat improvement projects in their vicinity. The elk will be implanted with transmitters to monitor their abortion or calving activity and the location where this occurs. All elk will be tested for brucellosis and general health conditions.

"Any effort to reduce brucellosis in wildlife is going to require a multi-pronged approach, using all of our known tools," Edwards said. "This is important research designed to improve these tools."

The Wyoming Governor’s Brucellosis Coordination Team also outlined this as critical research for managing brucellosis in wildlife. Brucellosis transmitted to cattle herds from elk caused Wyoming to lose its brucellosis free status in 2004. Ongoing research is part of the effort to eliminate brucellosis in wildlife and gain brucellosis free status back to the state.