Elk Taken in Crawford County to Be Tested for Disease
Posted: 12/08/2011

Wildlife biologists dispatched an elk Wednesday in Crawford County near the town of Charter Oak. Testing is being done on the elk for chronic wasting disease (CWD), brucellosis and tuberculosis. The animal was dispatched to protect the health and welfare of the state’s deer herd and domestic livestock. 

“We don’t like having to kill the animal, but at this time, the most reliable method of testing for CWD is from the brain stem which involves putting the animal down,” said Dale Garner, chief of the DNR’s wildlife bureau, adding that the department tests thousands of brain stems each year from harvested deer for the disease.

The animal was located by local deer hunters who contacted the DNR and were very helpful in keeping tabs on the animal while notification was made to the State Veterinarian’s office with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to make sure the elk was not an escapee from a local owner.

If the results are negative, the meat from the animal will be processed and donated to charitable organizations.

“Our top concern is for the health of the state’s deer herd and for domestic livestock,” Garner said. “Once chronic wasting disease (CWD) or bovine tuberculosis (TB) is out there, there is no going back. For the most part, there will be no happy ending to this situation.”

CWD is a neurological disease affecting cervids, primarily deer and elk. It is caused by an abnormal protein, called a prion that attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior and lose bodily functions. Signs include excessive salivation, thirst and urination, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head.

When an elk sighting report comes in, the DNR works with IDALS to determine status of elk and the best available options. If the elk can be returned to the proper owners, then they are.  If not, they then pose a risk to spreading CWD and/or other diseases and are dispatched.  The elk are tested for CWD and if the tests are negative, the meat is donated to local needy families or a food bank.

“Having these escapees is more than a minor irritation.  The prion linked to CWD does not go away when the infected animal dies. It stays active in the soil and contaminated soil can infect other animals,” Garner said.  “Like CWD, TB is extremely difficult to get rid of and could cost billions of dollars to the livestock industry.”

Garner said Iowa does not have the large land areas typically needed to support an elk herd.  Elk are two to three times the size of an Iowa white tail, averaging between 500 to 700 pounds.

For more information contact Dale Garner at 515-281-6156 or Kevin Baskins at 515-249-2814.