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Elk Disease

2002-7-11

This is the VOA SpecialEnglish ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

A mysterious disease is killing animals in one of America's mostpopular natural areas. The animals are large deer called elk.

Elk once lived in most areas of the United States. But hunterskilled so many of them that they survived only in the westernstates. Some elk have been brought back to other areas of thecountry. Wildlife officials recently decided to re-establish elkpopulations in the eastern part of the country. In the past twoyears, they have brought two groups of elk from Canada to an area inthe state of North Carolina. The National Park Service released theelk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Now, three of the elk have diedmysteriously. Some biologists fear that the elk may have died fromchronic wasting disease. Biologists say there were no signs ofinfection in the elk until they became weak and died. Somebiologists say the disease cannot be observed except in a deadanimal.

It is not known if the disease can spread to cattle or other farmanimals. However, chronic wasting disease is linked with mad cowdisease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Wildlife experts saythe only way to stop the disease from spreading is to kill thousandsof elk.

The elk in North Carolina first came from a protected area inAlberta, Canada. A total of about fifty elk were released into theCataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.Everything seemed to be going well until a park biologist foundthree dead female elk. Two of the animals were pregnant. The animalsappeared to have been starved. The National Park Service reportedthe deaths in late April. Now, state biologists have bannedtransporting elk into and out of the area.

Concern over diseases affecting wild animals like elk hasincreased recently in the United States. The state of Wisconsinannounced a plan to destroy fifteen-thousand deer. Officials inWisconsin fear that some deer in the state may carry chronic wastingdisease.

The disease was first found in the western state of Colorado inthe nineteen-sixties. Since then, it has been found in deer and elkpopulations in several states.

Some national park biologists do not believe that chronic wastingdisease killed the elk in North Carolina. They hope that studies ofthe dead animals will soon show that they are right.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by MarioRitter.