More diseased elk linked to quarantined ranch

October 31, 2001 The Denver Post by Theo Stein
Three elk from an Ault herd - linked to a Stoneham elk ranch at the epicenter of Colorado's chronic wasting disease outbreak - have tested positive for the disease, prompting state agriculture officials to quarantine the remaining 105 elk at the facility.

With weeks to go before all the test results on the 190 elk traced to Elk Echo Ranch in Stoneham are due back, a state board indefinitely extended a ban on all elk shipments until it determines the extent to which the fatal brain wasting malady has spread through ranched elk herds.

'It's imperative we have all the results before we lift the ban because of the prevalence of infection in these animals,' said Dr. Wayne Cunningham, Colorado's state veterinarian. Nine Colorado ranches with 1,500 elk have been quarantined since the first cases of CWD were disclosed in September. In every case but one, the infected animals have come from the Stoneham ranch.

Since there's no way to test live animals, all will have to be euthanized and screened for the disease.

Officials were pleased that no elk have been shipped from the Ault herd since the infected animals arrived.

But the rate of infection in Elk Echo animals, according to initial testing, has clearly rattled both elk breeders and agriculture officials.

Eight positive cases of the wasting disease have been discovered in the first 51 elk tested by Colorado officials. Four cases were found in animals that had died or showed symptoms of the disease. The other four have been identified in samples of brain tissue from Elk Echo elk, including the three new cases from 14 elk taken from Gary Boxberger's herd in Ault.

Results are pending on another 44 elk that have already been euthanized.

Veterinarians now believe the Stoneham ranch, one of four operated by Merino resident Craig McConnell, has been infected since at least 1995, perhaps as early as 1992. Elk Echo was quarantined in May 2000 after the CWD death of a cow at the ranch, but members of the herd judged to be at 'low risk' of infection were not covered by the quarantine. Some recently tested positive for the disease.

The herd's infection managed to grow without being detected by the state CWD surveillance program, which has been faulted because it depends on ranchers to report problems in their own herds.

Cunningham has said McConnell tried to hide a sick elk from him during the investigation and failed to submit brain samples from at least two others, as required.

Agriculture officials in 15 other states are now waiting to see if they got infected animals from McConnell.

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