by Christine Peterson, Casper Star-Tribune
OUTSIDE PINEDALE, Wyo. — Elk pushed and jostled against each other in a maze of green, metal pens at the base of the Wind River Range.
Wildlife biologists and technicians coordinated their efforts. They needed to sort, test and tag about 100 elk in a matter of hours. The team had it down to a science.
Gates opened simultaneously, as animals moved through four at a time. Elk fit in a small slot at the end of their capture where biologists drew blood and punched in an ear tag.
On the other side of the gate was freedom.
“Off you go, young lady,” brucellosis GIS specialist Cheyenne Burnett said to a young female elk who seemed disoriented by the process. “I know; it’s so scary.”
Moments later, the elk leapt into a field and back to the mountains.
The day in mid-February was dedicated largely to a multimillion-dollar, decadeslong effort to stop the spread of brucellosis, a disease that causes elk, bison and cattle to miscarry.
Scientists have tried dozens of tactics to stop the spread in elk, none of which seem to offer the silver bullet. Hope had been placed in a vaccine, a similar strain that worked well in cattle, but results now show it did little.
More alarming is the diseases’ slow movement outside of western Wyoming. As it continues to spread, wildlife officials, ranchers and veterinarians are hoping the future rests in efforts as simple as changing feeding patterns and as complex as creating an entirely new vaccine.
“I’ve been working on this for over 30 years, and we haven’t gained nearly as much ground as I thought we once would,” said Jim Logan, the Wyoming state veterinarian. “When I was younger, I really did think we probably could eradicate it … but it’s a very, very difficult thing to overcome.”
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Source: Casper Star Tribune