Five elk found dead during the first week of January at a private feed site near the Golden Eagle subdivision in Timber Gulch north of Hailey died from infection associated with the feeding operation, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has reported.
The five elk—three cows and two calves—displayed no evidence of trauma and were in good body condition when they died, Fish and Game reported in a news release.
Fish and Game personnel retrieved the three unscavenged cow carcasses for examination by Mark Drew, a wildlife veterinarian with the agency in Boise. Bacteriological samples retrieved by Drew indicated that the elk died from clostridial infections.
It was the second time elk died from clostridial infection at that feed site, Fish and Game reported. In January 2006, an otherwise healthy cow elk was found dead at the same location.
Clostridial organisms are commonly found in soil and the intestinal tract of animals, especially ruminants like elk, deer and domestic livestock. In areas where animals are concentrated, soil disturbance and fecal contamination can lead to higher levels of exposure to these bacteria.
With stress, sudden feed changes or ingestion of large quantities of feed, anaerobic conditions can develop in the gastrointestinal tract or other tissues that can allow the clostridial organisms to overgrow or invade tissue and produce fatal toxins.
According to Fish and Game, feed sites can create conditions that enhance proliferation and transmission of bacteria and other disease agents among animals that are feeding and defecating in close proximity with one another.
Drew has recommended a number of solutions to prevent the problem from happening again in the future. They include discontinuing the feeding, changing feeding locations at the site on a regular basis and spreading the feed over a large enough distance that all animals present can feed at the same time.
Fish and Game personnel have reportedly relayed this information to the operators of the feed site.
Fish and Game officials have long discouraged private elk feeding operations in the Wood River Valley and elsewhere to minimize the risk of disease transmission, reduce dependence of big game on artificial feed, maintain natural seasonal migration patterns and encourage use of traditional winter ranges, the news release states.