COLUMBIA — Eleven of the 49 elk captured in Kentucky and targeted for relocation to Missouri have escaped, died of stress, been euthanized after injury or released.
None of the elk trapped by the Missouri Department of Conservation near Pineville, Ky., has shown any sign of disease. The elk are being held for 90 days while agents test them for chronic wasting disease, bovine tuberculosis and other illnesses.
Jason Sumners, deer and elk biologist for the Conservation Department, said he isn’t surprised by the elk losses. Most of the deaths were caused by the stress of being trapped, he said, and some of the elk were killed after suffering broken necks by running into fences. Others have escaped, and one adult bull elk that was threatening others was released from the holding pen.
“Some (losses) are simply inevitable — not much we can do to avoid them,” Sumners said. “We created a facility that was safe for man and animal, but wild animals do run the risk of injury.”
Disease testing requires that the elk be ushered through a series of chutes next to the holding pens so that agents can draw blood and send it to a lab for analysis. Sumners said the elk often would refuse to move through the chutes, forcing the agents to push them along with pieces of plywood.
He also cited weather as a challenge. Temperatures in Kentucky have ranged from 4 degrees to 74 degrees while the Missouri agents have been there. Snow made building the holding pen difficult.
“There is a large learning curve anytime you do something like this,” Sumners said.
While the Missouri agents conduct the tests, crews from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources have been feeding the elk and maintaining the habitat in the holding pen.
Sumners said the next major round of testing will happen sometime around the beginning of April. He’s confident the department won’t lose many more elk.
“I certainly think the losses have slowed down,” Sumners said. “I’m optimistic that we will have 35 elk or more.”