Elk test and slaughter begins
Photo courtesy Mark Gocke, WGFD
by Cat Urbigkit
January 31, 2006
About 70 agency and academia representatives converged on the Muddy Creek Elk Feedground near Boulder Monday to kick off the elk test-and-slaughter pilot project at the state-managed elk feedground.
It was a major cooperative effort between state and federal wildlife and animal health officials, and even involved local law enforcement authorities in securing the entrance to the feedground.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department Brucellosis Information and Education Specialist Chris Colligan said 226 elk were worked through the chutes and another 14 bulls were drugged and pulled from the trap before processing of the other elk began.
A total of 116 female elk were bled, Colligan said, with 42 testing positive for the disease. One of the animals that tested positive had to be euthanized Monday morning, but the remaining 41 test-positive elks were sent to slaughter early Tuesday morning.
The newly constructed 235-foot-long portable trap at Muddy Creek is capable of handling 400-500 elk at one time, with a total of 10 squeeze chutes for processing elk. An Idaho firm designed the trap and the price of its construction materials rang in at $93,000.
The pilot project is a recommendation of Wyoming’s Brucellosis Coordination Team and involves a limited test-and-slaughter program on elk at Muddy Creek in attempt to reduce their brucellosis seroprevalence rate. Brucellosis is a bacterial-caused disease of the reproductive tract that is common in elk and bison in western Wyoming. Transmission from elk to cattle occurred in western Wyoming in 2003, leading to the state losing its coveted brucellosis-free status for its livestock herds.
University of Wyoming College of Agriculture Dean Dr. Frank Galey, who also served as chair of the coordination team, said the pilot project was just another tool in the toolbox.
"We’re not going to vaccinate our way out of this problem," Galey said. "We’re not going to manage our way out of this problem. I see it as a research project."
The plan is to expand the study to the nearby Scab Creek and Fall Creek feedgrounds over the next five years and evaluate the program’s success in reducing brucellosis in the Pinedale Elk Herd.
When enough elk entered the trap Monday, wildlife officials closed the doors to the trap so that processing the elk could begin. The elk were moved into alleyways and worked into 10 separate squeeze chutes where blood samples were drawn and rubber collars bearing numbers were placed around their necks for easy identification. Cow elk spent the night in a holding pen while the lab work was completed on the blood samples at a portable laboratory in Pinedale. One of the cows died in the pen overnight from capture stress, Colligan said.
With test results in hand early Tuesday, 42 animals that tested positive for the disease were loaded into three livestock trailers that were locked and sealed by law enforcement officers and driven to a USDA-inspected slaughter facility in Idaho. Animals that tested negative for brucellosis were released from the trap and back onto the feedground.
A necropsy team from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department was slated to take tissue samples and perform necropsies on each carcass at the processing facility. The meat from the animals will be packaged and brought back to Wyoming for free distribution.
State officials had hoped to begin testing elk at the feedground on Sunday, but not enough test-eligible animals entered the trap to make the job worthwhile. WG&F Assistant Wildlife Division Chief Scott Talbott said that an effective capture would involve at least 100 adult cow elk. At one point on Sunday, there were about 200 elk in the trap, but only about 70 of were adult cows. In the early afternoon, the program was called off for the day, to begin anew Monday.
Photos by Cat Urbigkit, Sublette Examiner, and Mark Gocke, Wyoming Game & Fish Department
See next Thursday's edition of the Sublette Examiner for more details and further updates on this story.