Disease confirmed in park
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Disease confirmed in park

March 14, 2002 Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) by Gary Gerhardt
Biologists have confirmed that elk and deer in Rocky Mountain National Park suffer from chronic wasting disease and officials are requesting a federal research grant to launch an extensive testing program to see if the deadly illness is spreading.

There are approximately 3,000 of the majestic elk in three herds in Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park, both within park boundaries, and in the bordering town of Estes Park. There are some 500 mule deer in the park.

More than 3 million visitors come through the park each year, and a huge number of them come in the fall to watch the elk in the rut in Moraine and Horseshoe parks. Park biologist Mary Kay Watry said one visitor last October spotted an elk that didn't look like it was doing well.

"We couldn't find it for a couple of days, then came across the carcass," she said.

"Our National Park Service veterinarian did a field necropsy, then we sent the head to Fort Collins where they confirmed it died of CWD."

Watry said the park has been working with the Colorado Division of Wildlife for two years taking field tonsil biopsies from deer. Four of 61 deer given tonsil biopsies have come back positive for CWD.

"That would be about 5 percent of the deer which is equivalent to lands adjoining the park," she said.

Watry said the park has had three elk test positive for CWD, including the first back in 1981.

"Since there isn't a live test for elk, we are staying with the idea that our prevalence is probably less than 1 percent because the animals are pretty heavily watched, especially in the fall by visitors," Waltry said.

She said the park is seeking a $100,000 research grant plus $180,000 in in-kind services from park staff to continue the CWD testing program through 2005.

The infected deer were found around Beaver Meadows and Deer Mountain, Waltry said.

Ken Czarnowski, chief of resource management and research at the park said, "Our rangers killed one of the animals and another was found dead. We are still looking for two (infected) bucks, both with blue neck bands."

Czarnowski said the National Park Service has to work under different mandates when it comes to dealing with the disease.

Colorado is trying to thin herds in all of the hot spot areas of northeastern Colorado where CWD has been found in hopes that fewer animals in proximity with one another will keep the disease from spreading.

"We believe CWD is exotic to the park, so if any elk or deer are seen with it, we will shoot them," Czarnowski said.

"And we have personnel working on the west side of the park watching for it too because we don't want it spreading into the Western Slope."

He said a conflict resolution consultant is being hired to work with all interested parties when conflicts arise on how to handle CWD as well as other issues affecting the park.

Chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, scrapie in sheep, bovine spongiform encepalopathy or "mad cow" in domestic cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans all belong to a group of similar diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs.

In all cases, the disease attacks the brain and central nervous system, destroying healthy tissue. The word "spongiform" describes the spongelike condition of brain tissue that actually has holes in it.

INFOBOX

CWD in Rocky Mountain National Park

National Park Service and Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist Deer Mountain area - Deer found with CWD

Beaver Meadows area - Deer found with CWD

Moraine Park area - Elk found with CWD

(SEE MICROFILM.)

Source: Colorado Division of Wildlife

NOTES: Contact Gary Gerhardt at (303) 892-5202 or gerhardtg@RockyMountainNews.com.;

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