Elk Died From Eating Lichen

Mar 14, 2016

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Seven dead elk were found in the Great Divide Basin of the Red Desert last week. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Green River suspect the deaths were a result of the elk ingesting toxic lichen.

Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Supervisor Steve DeCecco said this is not the first time elk have died from lichen toxicosis in Wyoming. During the winters of 2004 and 2008, more than 500 elk died in the Red Rim area south of Rawlins from eating the stuff. DeCecco said the lichen itself doesn’t kill the elk.

Instead, when the animals eat it their muscles become paralyzed. This can lead to dehydration, starvation and a heightened vulnerability to predators. DeCecco said it is unclear why the elk eat the lichen.

"There’s something palatable about this to them and it’s readily available. They’ll be grazing along and they’re either focusing on eating that because there something that they like about eating it. Or for some other reason they just seem to graze along and ingest in some cases large quantities of this."

The Wyoming Game and Fish is asking the public to report any elk carcasses or elk that appear to be sick or unable to stand.