Michigan's Elk and Bovine Tuberculosis: Surveillance and Laboratory Results
July 10, 2012
Like white-tailed deer, elk are susceptible to bovine tuberculosis (TB). Because the elk range lies within an area shared by TB-infected deer, the risk of transmission to elk is very real. Research and experience with elk and red deer in other countries suggests that should TB become established in Michigan's elk herd, it could spread more rapidly than it has in deer.
In 1996 hunters were asked to voluntarily turn in elk heads for examination for TB. Since 1998, hunter harvested elk head submission has been mandatory. Along with road kills and other losses, a total of 2,815 elk have been tested for the disease from May 1996 to present.
To date, 1 adult female in 2000, 1 adult male in 2001, 1 adult female in 2003, and 1 adult male in 2006 from Montmorency Co. and 1 adult male in 2003 from Presque Isle Co., have been confirmed positive for bovine TB. The DNA analysis of the TB organism cultured from the first female elk indicates that it is the same strain found in infected cattle, deer and other wildlife in the area.
Because elk and deer normally avoid each other in the wild, available evidence suggests these elk were probably infected from feeding at artificial feed sites or bait piles intended for, and contaminated by, free-ranging deer.
Recently, surveillance for bovine TB in free-ranging elk has occurred in the Greater Yellowstone area of Wyoming, in Oregon before trans-location of elk to the eastern United States, and in Montana where the animals were associated with a captive cervid operation that was previously infected. In 1994, a privately owned elk herd from Montcalm County in Michigan was found infected with bovine TB and was depopulated. The DNA analysis of the culture indicated a strain of bovine TB different than what has been found in northern Michigan. The Montcalm County elk strain was traced to other captive stock from western states and Canada.
2009 Map of Positive and Negative Elk
For more information about elk in Michigan visit the MDNR Elk Site.