Wind Cave National National Park holds Elk Capture Operation

Published: Dec. 8, 2017 at 6:24 PM MST
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This is a research study that began last year at Wind Cave National Park. This operation is set out to determine the prevalence rate of Chronic Wasting Disease, an infection among elk that researchers say

is not so easy to get rid of.

Glen Sargeant, Research Wildlife Biologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, says, "It's transmitted by a misfolded protein called a prion and as a result it persists in the environments for a long period of time and it's not treatable the way that viruses or bacteria area.

Out of those sampled last year, the disease left 24% of the deer affected in the eastern part of the park and 6% in the western part.

In the process, a team in a helicopter is sent out to do netting and animal handling, occasionally bringing back blood samples and leaving special collars around the deer's neck.

This piece records the locations of the animals, alerting the team of their death, and helping determine whether or not it was due to the disease.

Greg Schroeder, Chief of Resource Management at Wind Cave National Park, says "This research is going to allow is to figure out the management actions were taking, whether or not their successful."

One of those decisions, a hard one management says for a national park, is to reduce the amount of elk in the park.

Schroeder continues, "We decided that that would probably be the best case scenario to help the long term health of the herd, and if not we would probably have seen a lot more elk die of the disease."

But it's a decision that will hopefully help other parks dealing with the same thing.

Sargeant says, "So the hope is that by reducing elk density, we'll reduce prevalence of the disease in the population, improve survival, and be able to learn some things about disease transmission that we'll be able to apply to other parks in other areas as well."

Schroeder continues, "Hopefully the positive outcomes we will see from this research will make those decisions a little bit easier in other areas of the Country.