Four of 120 elk carried chronic wasting disease

November 15, 2001 The Santa Fe New Mexican
DENVER State agricultural officials say four of 120 elk killed because of exposure to chronic wasting disease had the illness.

Three were elk from a ranch near Ault and the other was a bull elk from a ranch near Fort Morgan, state Agriculture Department spokeswoman Linh Truong said. Another 30 animals are waiting to be tested. The animals have to be killed to determine they are carrying the disease.

Truong said the University of Wyoming has joined Colorado State University in testing the animals that must be slaughtered and samples taken from their brains to determine whether they suffer from the fatal, transmissible disease.

With Wyoming helping, we hope to be finished with the remaining 30 by the end of this week, or by Thanksgiving at latest, she said. CWD is a neurological disease in a family of diseases that include scrapies in sheep, mad cow disease in cows and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Elk or deer that contract CWD die within two years. It attacks the brain, causing the animal to stagger, slobber and become confused. Once the trace-back elk are tested, officials will move on to a much more difficult project destroying more than 1,300 elk on ranches where CWD is known to occur.

The fate of several hundred more elk shipped to ranches in 15 other states remains to be determined.

The affected Colorado ranches are in the Stoneham area near Sterling, near Cowdrey in North Park, near Del Norte in South Park, and in Longmont. Officials hope to kill and incinerate the animals, then bury them in pits on site.

Some question has arisen about possible contamination of ground waters that may be near the surface in South Park, but state veterinarian Wayne Cunningham said his office was working with soil conservation groups to determine whether there are safe areas on the ranch for the burial pit.

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