Sunday, February 22, 2015

Feeding Of Elk In PA Is Illegal, Potentially Deadly

Spreading feed can spread disease.

       The Pennsylvania Game Commission wants to remind people living in and visiting the elk range that feeding elk is illegal.

Each year, Wildlife Conservation Officers encounter individuals illegally feeding elk. In most cases, they believe feeding the elk will help them, and don’t realize their actions could harm the elk or even kill them.

          Artificial feeding of elk can lead to rumen acidosis, which is a known source of mortality in wild elk.

          Elk are ruminants, or cud-chewers. And their rumens, or paunches, contain certain microorganisms, such as bacteria and protozoa, required to digest their natural diet.

          When elk suddenly have access to large quantities of artificial food sources, particularly readily digestible carbohydrates such as corn, the abrupt change in diet can lead to a cascade of events that ultimately results in the death of the animal. Over the past several winters, the Game Commission has confirmed rumen acidosis, which also affects deer, as a cause of death in several Pennsylvania elk.

          Following a cold snap last January, a trophy 6- by 7-point bull elk died from rumen acidosis that likely was caused by illegal feeding.

          Artificial feeding also can result in animals becoming habituated to humans, and can contribute to the transmission of several infectious diseases in deer and elk.

          When deer and elk congregate around an artificial food source, the high density of animals consistently visiting the same location can facilitate the spread of infectious diseases, particularly those that are transmitted by close contact between animals or through the environment. This is now increasingly important with the detection of chronic wasting disease (CWD) at two Jefferson County captive-deer facilities located just to the southwest of the elk range. 

          CWD is fatal to deer and elk. The infectious agent of CWD is contained in the feces, urine and saliva of infected cervids and is passed through direct and indirect contact. The agent persists for years in the environment, and congregating deer and elk around an artificial food source could increase the likelihood of spreading CWD.

          Elk are well adapted to enduring the winter months building their fat reserves through summer and fall to carry them through the winter. Their winter coats, which start growing in mid-September, provide excellent insulation and the habitats they seek out during the winter offer additional protection.

          Over the past five winters less than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s radio-collared animals have died from malnutrition, and artificial feeding does little to improve survival during the winter months.

          Quality habitat is far more important to the long-term survival of Pennsylvania’s elk population.  Landowners interested in improving habitat for elk or deer are encouraged to contact the Game Commission’s private lands biologist for advice or consultation. 

          The Game Commission urges instances of feeding elk be reported by calling 570-398-4744 or sending email or text information to

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