UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
SANTA FE – The Department of Game and Fish is investigating the deaths of more than 100 elk discovered this week in northeastern New Mexico.
Department biologists traveled to the area in Game Management Unit 46 north of Las Vegas after the die-off was reported Tuesday morning. The biologists found at least 100 dead elk in a ½- to ¾-mile area within the same 24-hour period. Tissue samples and water samples from the area were taken and delivered to the state Veterinary Diagnostic Services laboratory for analysis.
“At this time we’re looking into all possible causes, including epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD),” said Kerry Mower, the Department’s wildlife disease specialist. “What we do know from aerial surveys is that the die-off appears to be confined to a relatively small area, and that the elk were not shot by poachers.”
EHD is a sometimes fatal virus that affects deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and rarely cattle. The disease has been found throughout the United States and has been known to kill large numbers of animals in short periods of time. Samples from the dead elk were sent to a laboratory in the southeastern United States that specializes in EHD.
Other possible causes of the die-off include poisoning, either by something in the water or by elk consuming poisonous plants such as loco weed. Blue tongue, a virus similar to epizootic hemorrhagic disease, is another possible culprit, but early suspicions are focusing on EHD.
Since it was first reported in 1955, EHD has been confirmed in more than 30 states. It mostly strikes white-tailed deer, but other animals, including mule deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope also are able to contract the virus.
EHD does not affect humans and it is not contagious; it is not spread from animal to animal. Rather, it is spread by biting insects, including midges, often called no-see-ums, that proliferate during dry periods of late summer and early fall.
Animals develop signs of illness about seven days after exposure. They initially lose their appetite and grow progressively weaker, often salivate excessively and develop a rapid pulse and respiration rate and fever. Eight to 36 hours after the onset of observable signs, the animals go into shock and die.
The Department advises hunters who hold licenses for Unit 46 to be vigilant for deer, elk or antelope that have unusual behavior or appear sick. Hunters should not harvest those animals, and should report anything unusual to the Department’s toll-free information line, (888) 248-6866. Meat from EHD-contaminated game should be safe to eat, but as always, hunters should take precautions against contamination by bacteria or other substances by wearing rubber gloves when field-dressing and processing wild game.