Veterinary researchers seek cause of Wyoming elk poisonings

Apr 01, 2008
By staff

CHEYENNE, WYO. — Veterinary researchers at the University of Wyoming are working with the state's Game and Fish Department (G&F) to identify lichen toxins believed to be sickening elk, leaving them unable to stand.

In the Red Rim area, southwest of Rawlins, about 80 elk unable to stand were killed by G&F personnel in the first two weeks of March. A similar die-off occurred in early 2004.

Merl Raisbeck, a professor in the UW College of Agriculture's Department of Veterinary Sciences, and PhD student Becky Dailey are focusing on Xanthoparmelia chlorochroa, a lichen common in the West, or secondary metabolites in the lichen.

In tests with sheep, they found that lichen samples from 2004 caused more illness than 2005 or 2006 varieties, and are looking into why the X. chlorochroa poisonings occur in specific areas and why the lichen seems to be poisonous one year and not another. A specific environmental condition may be responsible, they said.