Elk May Blaze the Animal ID Trail

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

Elk being moved in Texas will sport a radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tag beginning after the first of the year, if commissioners for the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) adopt regulations proposed for tracking the animals for disease control, including chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal brain disorder. About 300 producers in the state own elk, which are classified as exotic livestock in Texas and are under the jurisdiction of the TAHC, the state’s livestock and poultry health regulatory agency. Premises and animal identification and record keeping requirements will extend to all of the animals’ movements in commerce.

“We’ve worked closely with elk breeders associations, including the Exotic Wildlife Association, South Central Elk Breeders Association and the North American Elk Breeders, to develop the proposed regulations that will be presented to the commissioners for final approval at their meeting December 6 in Austin,” said Dr. Bob Hillman, executive director for the TAHC and Texas’ state veterinarian. “The regulations were developed to enhance disease monitoring with minimal impact on marketing.”

“Identification and record keeping requirements will be extremely useful for quickly tracing elk movements, if chronic wasting disease (CWD) ­ or other diseases, such as brucellosis or tuberculosis ­ are detected in the animals, “he said. “Nationally, the implementation of animal identification for exotic livestock is ‘way down the line,’ but the Texas industry saw a need to be able to track elk movement now, so these animals will blaze the trail in the state for other species.”

The proposed regulations will require owners to obtain a unique premises identification number for their ranches prior to importing elk, moving them to market, slaughter, another ranch or onto other premises within the state. Furthermore, receiving sites within the state also are to be identified. Dr. Hillman said producers of all livestock species can easily obtain the unique seven-character premises identification number.

“Producers can go online, call us or request a paper application to obtain their premises identification number. The information collected will be accessed and used only by state and federal animal health officials for disease surveillance, control and eradication purposes,” explained Dr. Hillman. Premises registration can be completed online at http://www.tahc.state.tx.us or by calling the TAHC at 1-800-550-8242.

“HB 1361, passed during the last legislative session, enables the TAHC to develop an identification program consistent with the National Animal Identification System, and provides authority to charge a fee for the premises registration. Until 2005, the TAHC was one of the few state regulatory agencies that did not charge fees for services. An industry committee, after looking at many options, determined a $10 per year fee for premises registration is the most equitable way to support TAHC programs,” Dr. Hillman noted.

Under the proposed elk regulations, the premises identification fee, to be paid biennially, is slated to become effective January 1, 2006, for elk producers who move their animals in Texas commerce. The fee will not be charged retroactively for premises registered prior to that date. However, as premises registration are renewed every two years, the $10 per year fee will be applicable. Fees for premises registration for other livestock species are expected to be in effect in spring 2006. As of late November, more than 4,000 of the state’s 200,000 premises have been registered. Add one/Elk to Blaze Animal ID Trail in Texas

If the elk regulations are adopted, Texas producers must individually identify elk with a permanent, official electronic ear tag prior to moving them from their premises. A movement report then must be submitted to the TAHC within 24 hours, providing the owner’s name, and the age, gender and individual identification device number for each animal moved, source of the animal and the premises identifications for the herd of origin and destination site. The producer is to maintain a copy of the records for at least five years.

“Pasture-to-pasture movement of elk can be allowed without the electronic ear tag, provided the producer owns both sites and has them under a single premises registration,” explained Dr. Hillman. “However, the owner must first obtain a written permit from the TAHC and fulfill the reporting requirements.”

The proposed regulations urge producers to have elk tested for CWD when they die or are harvested. Deer and elk that exhibit clinical signs of CWD, such as emaciation, behavioral changes and excessive salivation always should be reported to the TAHC, so brain tissue can be collected and tested. Although the disease has been detected in several states in mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk, and in one instance, a moose, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) do not associate CWD with any known human health effects. More than 9,413 samples from free-ranging or captive deer and elk in Texas have been tested, with no CWD detected.

While mule deer and white-tailed deer also are susceptible to CWD, these animals come under separate identification and health regulations, explained Dr. Hillman. Mule deer in far west Texas and white-tailed deer statewide are classified as native wildlife, and to own them, producers must obtain a scientific breeder permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), which has regulatory authority over these species. Scientific breeders must meet identification and testing requirements established by the TPWD.

“We cannot say we don’t have CWD, if we don’t monitor susceptible species and test for it,” Dr. Hillman stressed. “If we do find CWD in Texas, appropriate action must be taken to control and eradicate the disease. Hunting, wildlife and exotic hoof stock are industries extremely important to the livelihood of Texas. It’s only reasonable to take precautions to ensure these animals are healthy.”