Increased vigilance for animals exhibiting signs of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Wind Cave National Park resulted in the discovery of an elk displaying clinical signs of the disease. The elk was euthanized and tissue samples from it later tested positive for CWD. Called targeted surveillance, this increase level of vigilance has been the norm at the park since May of 2003 when funding to combat the effects of CWD in area elk herds was received. Over 470 hours have been logged by a wildlife technician monitoring elk herds in the park for disease symptoms that include the loss of body condition and weight, drooling, uncoordinated movement, and behavioral changes. Any animals exhibiting these symptoms are euthanized and tissue samples collected.
Park resource management specialist Dan Roddy said, “We are pleased that our efforts to monitor elk in the park are working. This targeted surveillance program allows us to remove animals we feel might have contracted CWD and minimize its spread.”
The most recent case involved a year and a half old bull elk that was observed in the southern end of the park. The animal was euthanized, and tissue samples were sent to the Colorado State University Diagnostic Lab in Fort Collins for confirmation of the disease.
Since 1998, seventy deer and nine elk in Wind Cave National Park have been tested for CWD. Of those totals, five deer and two elk have tested positive for this disease which is similar to mad cow disease and thought to be caused by a “prion” or abnormal protein particle. How the disease is transmitted is unknown, although at this time there is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans.