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Kansas officials discover chronic wasting disease in elk herd

December 7, 2001 The Wichita Eagle by Phyllis Jacobs Griekspoor
State officials have discovered the first Kansas case of chronic wasting disease in a captive elk herd near Anthony.

Kansas Livestock Commissioner George Teagarden said the infected animal had been purchased from an elk ranch in Colorado.

The disease, which is similar to scrapie in sheep and mad cow disease in cattle, is not a danger to domestic livestock in the region, Teagarden said.

"There is no evidence that this disease has crossed from one specie to another," he said. "This disease affects elk and deer. But it doesn't spread to cattle, sheep or goats from infected elk or deer." The disease does spread from elk to deer and vice versa, however, creating concern that infection in captive elk herds could lead to infection in free-roaming deer, which often mingle with domestic elk herds.

"At this point, we know it is a slow-spreading disease, but we don't know exactly what causes it or how contagious it is in wild herds," Teagarden said.

"We had three ranches in Kansas that had purchased a total of 11 animals from the infected area in Colorado. We have purchased and slaughtered all but two of the elk for testing. We found only this one case of an animal positive for the disease."

He said it was against the state's policy to identify the owner of the herd.

He said the state is negotiating to buy the other two animals purchased from the Colorado ranch so they can slaughter and test them.

The disease, which causes the animal to lose weight and eventually die, appears to occur only in adult animals. As the disease progresses, the infected animal interacts less with other animals, becomes listless, stands with its head lowered, develops a blank expression and begins to walk repetitively in a pattern.

Officials have quarantined the Anthony herd where they found the infected animal and likely will slaughter and test those 13 animals, too, Teagarden said. There is no live animal test for chronic wasting disease, which is a member of a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or TSE.

If none of the other animals tests positive for the disease, the ranch will remain under quarantine for a period of time and then the owner will be allowed to repopulate, Teagarden said. He said state officials are still working to determine how long the ranch should be kept free of elk to prevent any further spread of the disease.

Detection of the disease in Kansas worries elk ranchers such as Don and Gayle Bartel, who have been growing elk on their Butler County farm for more than a decade.

"We've been part of the surveillance program for several years," Gayle Bartel said. "We notify the state and have every animal that has to be put down or that dies tested. We also test the brains of animals sent to slaughter. We don't want this disease to get a foothold in Kansas."

Chronic wasting disease was first identified in the United States in 1967 as a clinical wasting syndrome in mule deer in a northern Colorado wildlife research facility.

In the mid-1980s, the disease was found in wild deer and elk herds in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. In May 2001, a case was found in wild deer in southwestern Nebraska. That region has been declared an endemic area for the disease.

The first time it was found in a captive herd was in 1997 in South Dakota. Since then, there have been 17 additional positive captive herds, including the most recent one at Anthony, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Six more infected herds have been found in South Dakota, three in Nebraska, five in Colorado, one in Oklahoma, one in Montana and one in Kansas.


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E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
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Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.
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