Test & Remove Pilot Project Continues
by Wyoming Game & Fish
February 21, 2006
(Pinedale) Wyoming Game and Fish Department personnel successfully trapped 131 elk at the Muddy Creek Feedground on Feb. 16 during the second round of an experimental test-and-removal program.
Wildlife managers handled 40 female elk that had blood drawn and tested for brucellosis. Only adult cow elk are being tested as part of this project.
During this trapping operation, 16 elk tested seropositive for brucellosis. Fourteen of those testing positive were sent to a meat processing facility in Idaho for slaughter on Friday. Two of the positive elk were inadvertently released. Game and Fish personnel will attempt to remove these two elk by darting them on the feedground or by attempting to trap them again.
During the first round of trapping, on Jan. 30, 42 elk testing positive for brucellosis were sent to slaughter.
"Our goal was to capture as many elk as we could that had not been previously tested," said Bernie Holz, Game and Fish wildlife supervisor for the Jackson/Pinedale Region, who coordinated the project. "The trap was tripped when enough uncollared elk had entered the trap to make this effort worthwhile."
The project, one of 28 recommendations from the Governor's Brucellosis Coordination Team, was a large cooperative effort between the WGFD, Wyoming Livestock Board, Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, University of Wyoming, Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory, U.S. Forest Service and Sublette County Sheriff's Office.
The seropositive elk were shipped to Idaho and slaughtered at a USDA-approved facility. The meat from those elk will be processed and packaged at the facility, then distributed to the seven Game and Fish regional offices for donation to the public.
Tissue samples will be collected from all sixteen seropositive elk at the processing facility. These tissues will be cultured to determine if the slaughtered animals were actually infected and capable of transmitting the disease.
Preliminary results on the initial 42 elk that were slaughtered in January indicate that approximately 30 percent of those elk were culture positive. These results are based on only two tissue samples taken from each of those elk. However, the kinds of tissue samples tested were deemed the most likely to harbor the Brucella bacteria, as shown in previous brucellosis research. Researchers still plan to try to culture, or grow, the Brucella bacteria from other tissue samples that were collected.
"The tissue samples we collect are those most likely to harbor the bacteria, but unfortunately it only shows us the elk's health at that moment in time," said Hank Edwards, Game and Fish wildlife disease specialist. "These elk clearly showed antibodies from being exposed to brucellosis. In some cases the tissues sampled may not have contained the bacteria, but these elk still may have been capable of transmitting the disease if there were levels of brucellosis that were not found using standard culture techniques."
Obtaining a clear understanding of the connection between seropositive results and culture positive results is an important objective of the pilot project.
This experimental project is scheduled to last five years and likely will be expanded to the nearby Scab Creek and Fall Creek feedgrounds in the Pinedale Elk Herd Unit. The Wyoming Governor's Brucellosis Coordination Team outlined this experimental program as critical research for managing brucellosis in wildlife. Wyoming lost its brucellosis free status in 2004 after an outbreak of the disease in cattle, which was believed to have originated from contact with elk.
Ongoing research is part of the effort to eliminate brucellosis in wildlife and gain brucellosis free status back to the state.