Elk are flourishing in Pennsylvania after being re-introduced into Elk County about a century ago.
Now there are concerns after a deer suffering from chronic wasting disease was found near the elk management area.
“The only CWD deer we knew of were in enclosures from an agricultural deer farm, this was the first time we found a wild, free-ranging animal with CWD,” explained Doty McDowell.
The disease kills cells in deer, elk, moose and reindeer. It’s fatal to the ones that catch it.
“The brain ends up with a bunch of holes in it looking like a sponge, when that happens it has cascading effects that carry on into all the other body tissues and they just waste away,” described elk biologist, Jeremy Banfield.
McDowell says the disease was first found in Pennsylvania in 2012. He says it’s slowly spreading to Elk County.
“It is alarming because it’s about ten miles as the crow flies from the Elk Management area.”
The game commission is doing their best to keep it from effecting the elk population.
“We test all our hunter harvested elk, we test road kills, we pretty much test any elk that we can get our hands on for chronic wasting disease. It’s all come back negative so far,” said Banfield.
A few days ago, one elk went into an area where many diseased deer were found.
“What we don’t want is we don’t want the elk to go down there and catch the preions and bring them back to the elk range and infect other elk. So we actually euthanized it. A tough decision but we know during the breeding sseason that bull is most likely going to returned.”
McDowell says hunters can help track the disease by sending in samples from their hunts.
“How many animals are on the landscape that are affected, we know of one, but is there 20 more, 1,000 more or no more?
The Pennsylvania Game commission is planning on hosting 3 public hearings in Clearfield and Elk Counties to inform the community about the disease and how it spreads in an effort to prevent it.