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Wyoming appeals to elk hunters for help with disease monitoring

 

Wyoming elk
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Brucellosis is a highly contagious disease that is impacting elk across the West. In fact, in an effort to keep infection away from elk and other wildlife, thousands of Yellowstone bison—known carriers of the fatal disease—were recently culled and states like Wyoming and Montana continue to try to track the spread of disease. To do this, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) biologists send roughly 11,000 blood collection kits to hunters with limited quota elk tags to collect fresh blood samples from elk harvests. The problem? Only 32% of the kits are returned and, of that small percentage, only 60% are “deemed usable,” the Casper Star Tribune reports.

To increase the number of hunters who participate in the blood collection sample kits, WGFD has partnered with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Vortex, Maven and the Wyoming chapter of the Wildlife Society to raffle off hunting gear. It’s a savvy way to encourage more hunters to participate in the state’s brucellosis monitoring program.

“The public can really help us just by harvesting elk and getting prevalence data from those animals,” Eric Maichak, WGFD’s Big Horn Basin brucellosis habitat told the Casper Star Tribune.

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Brucellosis is a highly infectious disease that can be transmitted from animal to animal by direct contact. It causes infected animals to abort and it is possible to pass along the disease through after birth.

“The fetus is swimming with bacteria and is highly infectious. If you have a bunch of animals that are always together, the odds [of infection] go way up,” says Maichak.

The hope is through this incentive program, hunters will help WGFD keep tabs on the spread of brucellosis. However, with established feeding stations and continued encroachment of elk congregation areas, it may not be enough. Regardless, understanding how prevalent the disease is in the state will help biologists come up with an action plan to keep it under control.

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