First Captured Elk Dies; Research and Surveys Continue

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The first live but afflicted elk transported from the area southwest of Rawlins where 280 have lost leg muscle strength and died or been euthanized, died at the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory Friday morning.

Although the Game and Fish Department manages big game animals in terms of statewide populations and herds, this cow elk had become a focal point in the quest to discover the mysterious malady after her capture Feb. 29.

Veterinarians had treated the elk for dehydration, plus administered B vitamins, vitamin E, selenium and anti-inflammatory drugs trying to gain insights into the malady.

Lead G&F veterinarian Walt Cook said the elk was drinking well, but not eating, and looked good Thursday evening. Three elk captured March 1 are still living and have good vital signs, except they also are not eating.

“Lack of appetite may be a result of the sickness or perhaps just stress,” Cook said. “Hopefully the elk will start eating.”

In the arduous process to identify the source of malady, WSVL personnel have now ruled out calcium deficiency. Last week the laboratory eliminated chronic wasting disease, bacterial and common viral infections, tick paralysis, meningeal and carotid artery worm as causes. Mercury poisoning, selenium toxicity, many of the common plant toxins, some insecticides, a variety of metals and salt, nitrate and sulfate poisoning have also been eliminated.

The G&F is surveying a 50-square-mile area for sick elk and also taking extensive plant samples for analysis.

The discovery of dying elk was initially reported to the department on Feb. 8 when a coyote hunter found two elk approximately 15 miles from Rawlins that were alive, but unable to move.

Officials say there is no evidence to suggest any human health risk and that this malady appears to affect only elk.