Mysterious Elk Deaths Rise Over 250

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

The mysterious deaths of elk southwest of Rawlins continue to rise. As of Wednesday, Feb. 25, the death toll stood at 275 elk, of which only a few are bulls. Most are cows and calves in good condition.

“At this point, it looks like infectious disease is unlikely and for that reason we are more suspicious of toxins,” said Walt Cook, wildlife veterinarian with G&F. The Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory and G&F veterinarians are working to narrow the potential causes of death. All of the elk exhibit similar symptoms, particularly the inability to move.

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. Since that time, officials have found dozens of dead and dying elk using an airplane and searching the area on foot and four-wheelers.

“They are alert, but they just have no strength,” said Kent Schmidlin, Lander region wildlife supervisor. “When we find them, they are lying down on the ground, but they can’t get up, almost like they are paralyzed in their lower extremities.”

About ten of the dead elk are being analyzed in the state vet lab to determine the cause of death and all avenues are being explored. Tissue, rumen, plant, soil and water samples have been taken to try to explain the bizarre die-off.

“Right now, we are asking folks to stay out of the area so we can do our investigation and find out what is killing these elk,” said Joe Nemick, the lead wildlife biologist in the region. The dying elk are in elk hunting unit 108.