Birth control to be tried on Colorado elk
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colorado – Some elk in Rocky Mountain National Park will be tested for chronic wasting disease and given birth control starting next month to see how well the two procedures work.
Park officials first disclosed the plan two weeks ago and released more details on Friday.
They plan to capture 120 female elk and try testing them for wasting disease ” a fatal brain ailment similar to mad cow disease ” while they are still alive.
Most tests for wasting disease in elk are done only on dead animals. This will be the first time the live test has been tried on free-ranging elk, the officials said.
Any elk found to have the disease will be killed.
Sixty of the captured elk will also be given a fertility control agent called GonaCon to test its effectiveness.
The elk will be anesthetized and then tested. Park officials will put collars on elk that don’t already have them. Monitoring will continue for three years.
Scientists from the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state Division of Wildlife and Colorado State University will participate in the studies.
“We are excited to have Rocky Mountain National Park serve as a laboratory for the testing of a live test for CWD in elk since testing has only taken place in captive facilities so far,” Superintendent Vaughn Baker said. “This could also help us determine a better estimate of the CWD prevalence of elk in the park.”
Researchers advised hunters not to harvest collared elk outside the park so they will be available for study and because drugs used on the animals may still be in their bodies.
Some collared elk may be tagged with a warning that the animal should not be consumed.
The wasting disease tests and birth control trials will be done in conjunction with a plan to thin the park’s elk herd from the current 3,100 to between 1,600 and 2,100.
Officials say that in the absence of natural predators, park elk have grown too numerous and are devouring aspens, willows and other native plants.
The thinning plan calls for qualified volunteers, staffers from other agencies, Indian tribes or contractors authorized by the Park Service to shoot elk at night with silencer-equipped rifles to keep the culling out of public view.