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Lichen Poisoning Paralyzing Wyoming Elk, Officials Warn to Not Consume Meat

Lichen cups

Wyoming wildlife officials are warning hunters to not shoot elk that appear weak or paralyzed. The discovery of lichen poisoning in a dead cow elk in September has prompted the warning from officials, especially since it is uncertain what impact eating poisoned elk meat might have on humans.

Officials with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) said elk that are poisoned by lichen become paralyzed and may die from starvation or predation. They are still trying to determine whether such meat is edible and what exactly causes lichen poisoning in elk.

Lichen is an organism composed of a symbiotic union between a fungus and photosynthetic agent that grows on rocks, trees, etc. It is typically leaflike or crustlike with a green, gray, yellow, brown or black-ish color.

The elk officials found in September near Wamsutter had tested positive for lichen poisoning. It is the only one found thus far this year, but Wyoming has had 500 elk die in the 2004 and 2008 winters because of lichen poisoning, according to a WGFD release quoted by Trib.com.

This year’s elk case was detected sooner than in past years, possibly due to the drought which is affecting the abundance of food, according to Daryl Lutz, Lander regional wildlife supervisor for WGFD.

If you notice an elk behaving strangely or if you see that one is paralyzed, please notify WGFD game wardens.

Feature image from Wayne Noffsinger (knottyboy) on the flickr Creative Commons, Image from Alpha (avlxyz) on the flickr Creative Commons

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  • ron spomer

    Which lichen species? Only a few lichens are poisonous (“wolf” lichen, grows on dead pine and fir tree branches in West.) Caribou thrive on lichens. Many lichens are edible and suggested as survival food for humans. Might be wise to point this out in articles like this.