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Disease testing: Elk study aims to measure spread of brucellosis

Disease testing: Elk study aims to measure spread of brucellosis

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State wildlife biologists are beginning a study this

weekend to test 100 cow elk in the Ruby Valley for exposure to brucellosis.

Biologists with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks will begin capturing the elk Sunday morning on a private ranch just north of the Blacktail Wildlife Management Area in the upper Ruby Valley, said Kelly Proffitt, FWP wildlife biologist. She said the goals of the project are to

sample whether elk that far from Yellowstone National Park have the disease, determine whether infected cows abort their calves and gather data on how far the Ruby herd migrates throughout the year.

"We're trying to figure out where the boundary is for infected elk," she said.

Brucellosis is found among bison in Yellowstone, as well as elk in and around the park. The disease has been detected in elk in the Madison Valley and other areas surrounding the park.

Biologists are uncertain how far west elk are infected with the disease, which can cause females to abort calves.

The research plan calls for biologists to net 100 cow elk. The animals will not be drugged, but rather restrained with a crew and given an instant card test for

brucellosis.

Any elk found to carry the disease will get a vaginal implant to monitor its

pregnancy and be collared to track its movements. Regardless of how they test, a total of 30 elk from the sample will be collared as part of the study to measure how far the Ruby herd wanders throughout the year.

Proffitt said it's extremely unlikely that 30 elk would be found to carry brucellosis. The study will go on for several years because FWP needs data on the interaction between different elk herds.

Neil Anderson, FWP wildlife lab supervisor, said elk infected with the disease have been detected in the Wall Creek game range area of the Madison Valley. But FWP has scant data on elk farther west of the Gravelly Mountains.

He said the implants in pregnant cows will provide information on whether they abort their calves. And even if the cows carry their calves to full term and give birth, the implants can provide valuable data.

"We want to find out if they abort or not and then even find the birth site to see if we can recover some birth material," he said. "We want to know if they abort year after year, do they abort once or maybe we have some that don't abort at all."

Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at nick.gevock@mtstandard.com.

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