By Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2020

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - An elk has tested positive for chronic wasting disease in an area of northwestern Wyoming where the animals congregate during the winter at feedgrounds.

Wyoming’s Wildlife Health Laboratory processed a test Wednesday from an elk killed by a hunter as part of Grand Teton National Park’s annual elk population control efforts, state officials announced Friday.

Mule deer and moose have tested positive for chronic wasting disease in the area in the past but this is the first detection of the disease in an elk in Teton County, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.

Most winters, the National Elk Refuge adjoining the park puts out alfalfa pellets to help thousands of elk survive until spring and keep off private land.

In all, nearly 20,000 elk gather at 23 state and federal feedgrounds each winter west of the Continental Divide in Wyoming. Some criticize the practice out of concern it could spread disease.

Chronic wasting disease is similar to mad cow disease in cattle. Both are caused by misfolded proteins that can persist in the environment.

Chronic wasting disease causes animals including elk, mule deer and moose to become emaciated and eventually die. Spread to humans has never been confirmed though wildlife managers caution people not to eat the meat of animals testing positive.

How quickly the disease will progress through elk populations in Jackson Hole and elsewhere in the Yellowstone region remains to be seen but researchers think populations will begin to decline once chronic wasting disease reaches 13% prevalence.

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