Red Desert Elk dying from Lichen Poisoning

*Feature Photo: Rock Springs Game Warden Dave Hays holds some of the tumbleweed shield lichen found near dead elk. (WGFD / Pitchengine Communities) * GREEN RIVER – Wyoming Game and Fish Department game wardens Dave Hays and Andy Roosa responded to a call on March 8th about seven dead elk, east of Steamboat Mountain, in the Great Divide Basin of the Red Desert. After arriving at the scene, the game wardens inspected the elk carcasses, which appear to have died sometime between November and January. “We also found an abundance of tumbleweed shield lichen in the area, which has been found to be toxic to elk when ingested” Roosa said. “Numerous red urine stains in the soil were also noted, an indication that elk had ingested the toxic lichen. Unfortunately, the elk were too heavily scavenged and decomposed to collect any samples which would confirm lichen toxicosis.“ Tumbleweed shield lichen is common in sagebrush habitats across the western U.S. The lichen causes long term and lasting muscle paralysis in affected elk, which appear alert, but are unable to stand. Lichen toxicosis itself is not deadly to elk, rather they likely succumb to predation, dehydration or starvation, as a result of being unable to move. “It is unclear why elk eat the lichen,” said Mark Zornes, Green River Wildlife Management Coordinator. “While it is a very unfortunate event we really can’t prevent the elk from eating the lichen. These lichen toxicity incidents are sporadic and do not impact the overall elk population.” “This is not the first occurrence of elk deaths from lichen toxicosis in Wyoming,” said Roosa.” In fact, during the winters of 2004 and 2008 combined, more than 500 elk died from lichen toxicosis in the Red Rim area. While the number of affected elk has not been anywhere near that high this year, Green River Region and Lander Region personnel have responded to a number of reports of paralyzed elk in the Red Desert this winter.“ “A number of these cases were confirmed to be lichen toxicosis by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory,” Roosa said. ”Some of these cases, including this most recent one, have occurred further east than has been found in the past. Game and Fish personnel do not believe that these deaths are occurring at a level which will have any significant impact on the population of this elk herd.” “We are asking the public to report any elk carcasses or elk that appear to be sick or unable to stand. Please use caution and do not approach live elk or handle carcasses. Also, it is illegal to pick up shed antlers or horns west of the Continental Divide until May 1. If you do observe any elk carcasses or elk exhibiting abnormal behavior or have any questions, please call the Green River Regional Office at307-875-3223 or the Wyoming Game and Fish Stop Poaching Hotline at 1-877-943-3847.” #county10 #news