More than 100 dead elk were discovered earlier this week less than a mile of one another north of Las Vegas, N.M., and the Department of Game and Fish is investigating the cause.
While nothing has been ruled out, early suspicion is focused on a fatal virus, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), which has been found in more than 30 states.
The disease does not affect humans and is spread among animals – mostly white-tailed deer, but also mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope – by biting insects, including midges, that proliferate during dry periods of late summer and early fall.
Department biologists went to the area where the die-off was reported Tuesday morning and found the carcasses within a 24-hour period. Tissue and water samples from the area were sent to the state Veterinary Diagnostic Services laboratory for analysis.
Kerry Mower, a wildlife disease specialist, said in a news release that it’s clear the elk were not shot by poachers. An aerial survey shows the dead animals confined to a relatively small area, he added.
EHD has been known to kill large numbers of animals in short periods of time. Samples from the dead elk were sent to a laboratory in the southeastern United States that specializes in EHD.
Other possible causes of the die-off include poisoning, either by something in the water or by poisonous plants such as loco weed the elk may have eaten, or blue tongue, a virus similar to EHD.
The department advises hunters who hold licenses for Game Management Unit 46, where the elk were found, to be vigilant for animals that appear sick. They should not harvest those animals and should report anything unusual to the toll-free information line, 888-248-6866. However, meat from such infected animals is considered safe to eat.