September 30, 2013 at 3:07 am #370MikeKeymaster
By Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News
March 17, 2004
Wyoming officials are testing lichens as the possible toxic plant
that caused a mysterious die-off of 295 elk near Rawlins.
Lichens are composite organisms combining fungi and algae.
The particular lichens that may have been responsible for killing the
elk during the past six weeks are called Parmelia molliuscula, which
contain usnic acid that could be toxic, said Wyoming Game and Fish
Department spokesman Tom Reed.
“We don’t know if this is the cause of the die-off, but lichen was
found in the stomachs of some elk, so we brought three elk into the
laboratory and are feeding them the lichen now to see if it affects
Reed said it’s believed elk have to consume 4 pounds of lichens a day
for at least five days to be affected.
The elk were found in a rolling sagebrush-desert area of about 50
square miles just south of Interstate 80.
They were down and couldn’t get back up when humans approached. The
elk finally died after being unable to get to food or water.
Reed said lichens are a ground plant that usually isn’t a problem
because they are covered by other forage the elk eat. But the 3-year
drought has killed off the forage, making it easier for the elk to
get to the lichens.
“We have literature that’s 50 years old saying cattle and sheep that
eat it display similar symptoms, but caribou eat it on the tundra
without any problems,” he said.
There are about 4,500 elk in the affected herd, which extends from
Hahn’s Peak northwest of Steamboat Springs in Colorado north through
the Sierra Madres in Wyoming south of Rawlins.
“The elk in this herd are moving south out of the area, and we have
radio collars on three of them to see just how far they migrate,”
gerhardtg@… or 303-892-5202
bill in boston
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