The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will begin collaring elk in the Bighorn Mountains as part of a study on brucellosis, a disease found primarily in elk and bison that can spread to livestock and result in animals aborting their young.
Starting Saturday, the Cody Regional Office will attempt to capture and collar 52 elk in order to better understand the rate of exposure of the disease in the area and how it spreads. Each animal will have blood drawn, an ear tag put in place, and be fitted with a GPS collar. Last year the department collared 58 elk in the Bighorns, but many of the collars ended up being defective.
Brucellosis habitat biologist Eric Maichak said the data will help them figure out how best to manage the disease.
“It’ll give us some idea of where does it occur right now, and then also how to potentially incorporate it into some of the models that can predict spatial spread of the disease,” Maichak said.
Right now the Bighorn Mountains have a relatively low rate of exposure to brucellosis with less than one percent of elk. In certain feeding grounds in western Wyoming the prevalence of brucellosis is closer to 25 percent of animals.
Maichak said figuring out if the animals that have been exposed in the Bighorns spent a lot of time in close contact could help with management of the disease in areas with higher prevalence.
“If we can figure out, you know, do those animals spend quite a bit of time concentrated? [Then] are there other management actions that we could employ that would help distribute them, such as habitat treatments,” Maichak said.
Maichek said they will also keep nearby livestock producers informed of any findings from the data.