Lichen Blamed For Mystery Elk Deaths In Wyoming

Submitted by Mr KIM on 03/23/2004 at 10:47. ( )

Just got this info and I am now passing it on to everyone else. Hope this info will set some minds at ease.----KIM

Lichen Blamed For Mystery
Elk Deaths In Wyoming

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Solving a grim mystery that had baffled scientists across the country, researchers have concluded that the recent deaths of a least 300 elk in southern Wyoming were caused by a mossy plant native to the Rockies.

State wildlife veterinarians suspected lichen as the culprit in the die-off after finding it in the stomachs of many dead elk.

To confirm their suspicions, three elk were fed the plant at a research center. One collapsed and was unable to rise Sunday. A second elk also started stumbling, and a third is expected to succumb quickly. All three will be destroyed.

State officials had investigated a number of possible explanations, including deliberate poisoning, for why elk were slumping to the ground and could not get up. Many eventually died of thirst.

"We've answered the biggest and most important question: What the heck is killing these elk?" Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokesman Tom Reed said. "It's a huge relief for everyone involved."

The lichen, known as Parmelia molliuscula, contains an acid that may break down muscle tissue, causing the elk to lose strength, said Walt Cook, a Game and Fish veterinarian.

Native elk were not affected by the acid; those killed in the die-off were apparently new to the area where the deaths occurred and may have lacked microorganisms needed to neutralize the acid.

"Elk don't normally winter down ... where they ate the lichen," Reed said. "But, for whatever reason, this year they moved in there."

The first sick elk was found Feb. 6 and scientists quickly ruled out chronic wasting disease, the deer and elk version of mad cow disease. They also eliminated most viruses and bacteria, malnutrition, exposure to heavy metals such as arsenic, and poisoning from a leaky gas well or pipeline.

Wildlife experts drove into the rough country near the Continental Divide and slogged through mud and melting snow to collect plant specimens and elk droppings. For a time, researchers used a helicopter at $900 an hour to search for afflicted elk.

Scientists will now look at how to prevent similar die-offs.

"There are a lot of factors we'll need to look at," Reed said. "Do elk eat this lichen in normal years? If so, why hasn't this happened before? Does a long history of drought weigh in somehow? If so, what are our management options in the future?"

The die-off, which killed as many as 5 percent of the Sierra Madre herd's breeding females, will affect hunting quotas this fall and could trigger wildlife policy changes, Reed said.

Other steps, such as improving range conditions to provide healthier forage, will also be considered.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department: http://gf.state.wy.us

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They should

This response submitted by Alex on 03/23/2004 at 12:55. ( )

Post signs all over so that the elk can read them and not eat the stuff,geeeez!

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