Captive Meade Co. elk herd tests positive for CWD

A captive elk herd in Meade County, similar to these, has been destroyed after one of the seven members displayed clinical symptoms of and later tested positive for chronic wasting disease. Photo courtesy US Department of Agriculture 

STURGIS — A small captive Meade County elk herd had two of its members test positive for chronic wasting disease and subsequently, the entire herd has been destroyed.

In March, a herd in Clark County had a single 21-month-old cow elk show clinical symptoms of chronic wasting disease. That animal was euthanized and samples were sent for testing to the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (ADRDL) at South Dakota State University in Brookings. The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, later confirmed positive test results for the fatal disease. 

South Dakota Animal Industry Board officials quarantined the herd along with others that provided animals to it, and began investigating where the infected animal came from.

It was determined that the cow elk came from the Meade County herd, which was immediately quarantined, said Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, the state vet.

In September, two elk in the Meade County herd began showing clinical symptoms of chronic wasting disease and were destroyed. Samples were taken, and results proved positive for CWD, Oedekoven said. 

Both herds, he said, had been longtime-participants of a CWD certification program and had never tested positive before.

Oedekoven said it was the state’s intent to purchase the seven animals in the Meade County herd before the two tested positive since the Clark County animal that tested positive came from Meade County, but the state was waiting on federal indemnity funds which became available at the start of the fiscal year, Oct. 1. In mid October, all seven Meade County elk were purchased and euthanized.

The approximate 20 animals in the Clark County herd, Oedekoven said, will be destroyed shortly.

CWD is a progressive neurologic disease of deer, elk, and moose — members of the cervidae family — caused by an abnormal prion protein in the brain of affected animals. It can not be transmitted to other species such as antelope, bison, or bighorn sheep. It can be transmitted to other cervids through saliva, urine, feces, and other bodily fluids. The disease is not known to affect humans and is not transmissible to other livestock species. 

Oedekoven said the Meade County elk facility has not received animals from other elk farms for quite some time, and that the working theory of how the herd contracted the always-fatal disease is that wild deer contaminated the feed source for the elk.

Chad Switzer, wildlife program administrator for the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks said that since the herd was identified as CWD positive, every landowner within a 10-mile radius was contacted and notified that the GF&P would like samples of deer harvested from the area.

Testing for CWD us conducted taking samples from lymph nodes located in the neck just below the jaw.

Switzer said that some captive facilities take biopsies from the rectums or tonsils of animals in an attempt to test live cervids, but the test is not 100% conclusive. 

To learn more about chronic wasting disease, visit gfp.sd.gov/chronic-wasting-disease/

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