Biologists from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (DGF) made a grisly discovery this week when they found more than 100 elk dead in northeastern New Mexico. According to the agency, the die-off occurred over a 24-hour period.
“At this time we’re looking into all possible causes, including epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD),” said Kerry Mower, a wildlife disease specialist with the DGF. “What we do know from aerial surveys is that the die-off appears to be confined to a relatively small area, and that the elk were not shot by poachers.”
EHD is a disease that can kill large numbers of animals, usually deer species, in a very short period of time. Deer infected with the illness can show symptoms as early as seven days after transmission, including loss of appetite, weakness, fever, becoming oblivious to predators, and eventually fatal hemorrhages. Other animals such as sheep and cattle can also contract the disease, although it is rarely fatal for domesticated animals. EHD is not contagious and is rather transmitted by the biting midge. So far over 30 states have reported cases of EHD and along with chronic wasting disease (CWD), which is contagious, it is considered one of the major threats to wild deer nationwide. Fortunately, EHD does not affect humans.
“With EHD, an elk could get a fever,” DGF spokesperson Rachel Shockley told KRQE. “It’s usually a pretty fast illness, and up to eight to 36 hours later the animals go into shock, and then they die.”
The die-off is an inauspicious start to the state’s elk bowhunting season, which begins Sunday. It is speculated that some guided hunts planned in the area will be canceled.
The DGF is looking into other causes, such as poisoning from a nearby water source or dangerous plants. Hunters are advised to be on the lookout for animals behaving strangely or appear sick. These animals should not be harvested and instead reported to the DGF. Visit here to find out how.
Although meat from animals stricken with EHD is still safe to eat, hunters are also advised to be careful when field-dressing game and to always wear rubber gloves.