Green Guide

Elk herd to be trimmed, studied for wasting disease

Posted November 22

— About 40 of the elk at Wind Cave National Park were recently fitted with radio collars so researchers can track their location as they study the effects of chronic wasting disease, while others will be killed to cull the park's elk population.

Volunteers and park staff plan to shoot as many as 300 elk over the next several months to bring the population down from 550 to about 250. Trimming the herd and tracking the remaining elk will help researchers understand the role that the high population of elk has in transmission of the fatal disease, U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist Glen Sargeant told the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/2fYJzBl ).

"What we're going to learn here is transferable to other places," Sargeant said.

Wild Cave officials originally sought to relocate some of the elk to Custer State Park, which had a low number of elk, but efforts fell through. Wind Cave officials found there was higher prevalence of chronic wasting disease than originally thought, which led to Custer officials declining further attempts to relocate elk from the national park.

About four dozen volunteer hunters were selected through a lottery but will need to demonstrate their shooting proficiency and physical fitness before being accompanied to the field for shooting by Wind Cave staff.

Harvested elk will be tested for chronic wasting disease, and carcasses that are free of disease will be processed. The meat will be shared among the volunteer shooters and the nonprofit organization Feeding South Dakota.

The first case of chronic wasting disease in South Dakota emerged in 1997, and it first began to spread among the Wind Cave herd in 2002. An estimated 9.5 percent of the elk in Wind Cave are currently affected by the disease, which causes brain degeneration, emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.

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