BOULDER -- Wyoming Game and Fish Department staff have wrapped up a five-year pilot program aimed at reducing brucellosis in the Pinedale elk herd unit.

It just required some ingenuity to make the final elk capture a success.

Game and Fish staffers reduced feeding for a few days to make the elk hungry enough to follow hay feedlines into huge traps at two feedgrounds in Sublette County. They found a total of 108 adult cow elk for testing. Blood samples were drawn and then driven to the state veterinary lab in Laramie on Monday. Results are expected to be available today.

At daylight Monday, state wildlife officials converged on the Scab Creek elk feedground, located along the western flank of the Wind River Mountains, and processed the animals for brucellosis testing.

After sorting out all the bulls and eartagging and releasing all the youngsters, 49 adult cows were processed. Each cow was moved into an individual chute so that a blood sample could be drawn from a vein in the neck. Each animal was given a numbered eartag and a rubber collar with an identification number slid over her neck. Each cow was then left overnight in a large, round holding pen.

The work at Scab Creek was completed in just a few hours, with temperatures hovering slightly above zero. The crew then headed down the plowed roadway to the Muddy Creek feedground to process the elk waiting there. An additional 59 cow elk were handled for brucellosis testing, as a persistent snow fell throughout the morning.

Elk testing negative for exposure to brucellosis will be released back onto the feedground. Those that test positive will be transported to an eastern Idaho facility for slaughter.

Current technology for the elk blood samples will only show if the animal has been exposed to Brucella abortus, the bacteria responsible for brucellosis infection. The animals that test positive are slaughtered so that tissue samples can be cultured to determine if the elk were actually infected and capable of transmitting the disease.

Meat from the slaughtered elk will be available for free distribution in Wyoming.

The test-and-slaughter program has operated on the Muddy Creek feedground in each of the five years, and for two years at the two other elk feedgrounds.

In the program’s first four years, more than 2,000 elk were handled, with about 1,000 tested for brucellosis. Officials sent 163 elk to slaughter.

In the first round of testing this year, an additional 21 elk were sent to slaughter.

Brucellosis exposure rates for elk on the Muddy Creek feedground progressively decreased from 37 percent to 7 percent in the first four years of the pilot project.

The project was a recommendation of the Wyoming Governor’s Brucellosis Task Force, an interdisciplinary team examining ways to reduce brucellosis in wildlife and livestock in Wyoming. With the completion of the program, the task force is expected to examine and discuss its effectiveness at a future date.

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