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Concerns that elks may carry domestic "Mad Cow Disease"

January 18, 2001
By: Nick White
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Saying he feared the outbreak of a venomous, degenerative disease akin to Mad Cow Disease, a House Republican has proposed banning the importation of wild elk into Missouri.

Rep. Michael Reid, R-St. Louis County, has proposed a 10-year moratorium on the introduction of free-roaming wild elk into the state, and it is one of three bills this session dealing with the state's elk population. The Missouri Conservation Department said it would result in an unnecssary waste of public resources.

"It's developing a solution to a problem that does not exist," said Gerald Ross, the department's assistant director, citing studies that showed only one or two wild elk migrated to Missouri over a recent one-and-a-half year period.

Reid said he was concerned that infected elks could pass a disease known as Chronic Wasting Disease to deer and other elks, though there was no evidence of danger to humans.

"Scientists do believe that there is a species barrier," Reid said. "A big motivator for sponsoring this legislation is the concern about disease that can be spread potentially to our cattle or white-tailed deer population."

Chronic Wasting Disease, or transmissable spongiform encephalopathy, systematically breaks down the brains of elk and deer similar to how "Mad Cow Disease" attacks cows' brains.

It is thought to be caused by prions, an infectious protein-like material that has caused the death of elks in Wyoming and Colorado. The disease can result in listlessness, weight loss, depression and death among infected animals.

"I anticipate the majority of farm organizations in the state of Missouri will support this legislation," Reid said.

Reid also voiced concern about extensive damage to crops, vehicles and farm property caused by elks.

The Conservation Department recently assessed the "biological feasibility" and "social acceptance" of wild elk, Ross said, but decided to not prohibit their importation.

Ross said the board agreed that efforts should be made to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, but stopped short of a ban on importation because elk were not invading Missouri in droves.