November 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm #1340MikeKeymaster
Disease decimates Kansas buffalo
BY BECCY TANNER AND PHYLLIS JACOBS GRIEKSPOOR
The Wichita Eagle
Nearly one-fourth of the buffalo have died at the state-owned Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, home to one of the oldest surviving wild buffalo herds.
A new disease is decimating buffalo herds across the state and has prompted the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to cancel its annual buffalo auction, typically held in mid-November.
The animals are infected with Mycoplasma bovis, a bacterium that causes pneumonia, mastitis and arthritis in cattle. It was first detected in some U.S. cattle in the 1960s.
For buffalo, it is especially virulent.
“They don’t have any prior exposure or resistance,” said Cliff Peterson, manager of the Maxwell refuge. “For buffalo, it’s pretty lethal.”
Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, in northwest McPherson County, is home to the state’s largest buffalo herd, which until a few weeks ago had 200 animals.
Since the disease struck, 47 have died and another three may have the disease.
“Any herd of buffalo that comes in contact with it is going to get knocked down,” Peterson said. “People are going to lose animals.”
Peterson said he was aware of two other infected buffalo herds in Kansas. Half of one herd and a third of the other have died.
“We’d never seen it before,” said Randy Clark, regional public land supervisor for Kansas Wildlife and Parks.
Maxwell has been home to the buffalo since 1951 and has conducted its annual buffalo sale for nearly 30 years. Normally scheduled for Nov. 15, the sale was canceled this year to prevent the disease from spreading to other herds.
The refuge tries to maintain its herd at about 200 head by selling off select calves, cows and young bulls each year. The animals typically sell for $1,000 to $3,000 apiece.
More than 25 million buffalo roamed the prairies in the United States two centuries ago. By the 1890s, their ranks had been reduced to less than a thousand.
Until about 40 years ago, buffalo were near extinction, and the 2,800-acre refuge was one of the few places in the nation to help nurture the species.
Maxwell, about 50 miles north of Wichita, draws about 40,000 visitors a year who view the herd from their cars or on tram tours offered by a volunteer group.
The refuge also is home to a herd of 50 elk, which doesn’t appear to be affected by the disease.
It’s not clear how the buffalo became infected.
Kansas State University veterinarian Larry Hollis said Mycoplasma bovis infections are rare in native Kansas cattle herds. He said the best advice for cattlemen is to make sure they have a double fence between buffalo herds and cattle herds to prevent nose-to-nose contact.
“The bacteria is spread by sneeze droplets or nose-to-nose contact,” he said.
For now, Kansas Wildlife and Parks officials are putting the diseased buffalo in quarantine.
“It doesn’t matter how we got the disease, we’ve just got to deal with it,” Clark said.
Clark said the buffalo at Maxwell have been vaccinated for Mycoplasma bovis twice in the past month and will continue to be vaccinated on a yearly basis. It’s unclear how effective the vaccine is in buffalo.
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