Lichen Poisoning

Tumbleweed shield lichen is responsible for causing health issues for some Wyoming elk, according to Rawlins Game Warden Teal Joseph.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Do not shoot an elk that looks weak or paralyzed. It could be suffering from lichen poisoning, and officials do not know the possible health effects on humans if infected meat is eaten, said Daryl Lutz, Lander regional wildlife supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Wildlife officials found a dead cow elk in September near Wamsutter. Tests revealed it died of lichen poisoning.

Lichen poisoning causes elk to be paralyzed, and they typically die of starvation or predation. Officials do not know what in the lichen causes paralysis in elk, according to a media release.

“That’s why we are discouraging people from harvesting any elk that look suspicious,” Lutz said.

Wildlife officials are also asking people to report any elk that look sick or are behaving suspiciously.

Wyoming elk have died from lichen poisoning in the past. More than 500 elk died in the 2004 and 2008 winters, according to the release.

This case of lichen poisoning was earlier in the year than past ones, which may be because of dry conditions and lack of food, Lutz said.

Wildlife across Wyoming are suffering from this year’s drought. White-tailed deer in the Black Hills area are dying from epizootic hemorrhagic disease, spread by biting gnats and made worse during dry years. Deer and antelope will enter winter thinner than normal and more susceptible to harsh conditions, according to wildlife officials.

To report any elk with strange behavior or paralysis, call Rawlins Game Warden Brady Frude at 307-328-0313, Sinclair Biologist Greg Hiatt at 307-324-2116 or the Lander Regional Office at 307-332-2688.

Reach Open Spaces reporter Christine Peterson at 307-746-3121 or Follow her on Twitter@PetersonOutside.


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