Elk Anatomy – Parasite and Diseases

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To the casual observer, elk look like they are always in good health, but it is unreasonable to think that the Wapiti would be able to escape the ravages of diseases and parasites. In fact, elk are susceptible to sickness and death from a variety of disorders.

Specifically, elk are susceptible to the deadly anthrax and brucellosis diseases. Anthrax occurs naturally in ground sports and, when ingested by and elk, causes quick death.

Brucellosis is a far more common and serious disease and currently infects many of our major elk herds. Upwards of 50% of the elk herd that winters in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is infected with brucellosis, and much of the northern Yellowstone Park elk herd also carries this deadly disease. Brucellosis is much feared among both ranchers and wildlife biologists because it causes sterilization and abortions among females. While many diseases are not, in reality, as dangerous as they appear, brucellosis bacteria is for real.

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Several parasites also latch onto elk and use them for hosts. Arthropods such as ticks and mites are fairly common among elk. However, only the mite has the potential to cause permanent harm to an elk. Massive infestations of these microscopic mites cause scabies, commonly called mange, and post a real danger to the life of an elk. Usually an elk infested with mites itches so badly that it rubs itself raw, its hair falls out and a huge ugly scab results, often covering virtually its entire body. In this condition death usually occurs from hypothermia or infection.

In addition, roundworms, lungworms and arterial worms also cause death among elk. In these situations, the primary transmitter is the bloodthirsty horsefly. In areas where horseflies are not numerous, incidents of these parasitic infections are low.


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