Manitoba elk to be tested for tuberculosis

The federal government is planning to test elk for tuberculosis in a

Manitoba national park amid fears the disease could infect cattle herds.


Canada has issued a request for proposals for tests in Riding Mountain

National Park citing a "serious threat" to the livestock industry. The

park in western Manitoba is home to just over 2,000 elk and officials

estimate about four per cent are infected with the contagious

respiratory illness.

"The ecological impact of the disease on the

elk population is unknown, although with a low prevalence, it is not

believed to be population limiting," says the request obtained by The

Canadian Press.

"However, being present in a wild ungulate

population, that is transboundary and therefore migrates out of the park

and onto adjacent lands, creates a serious threat to the livestock


The request says there are about 50,000 cows on 700 farms in the area that could be threatened by the contagious disease.


Kingdon, co-ordinator of the wildlife health program at Riding Mountain

park, said testing is part of an ongoing effort to "whittle" away at

the disease. Elk are tested and then tracked using a GPS collar, he

said. Infected elk are recaptured and destroyed.

"Our intent and our hope is that our actions will end up leading to eradication of bovine tuberculosis in wildlife."


disease has lingered for decades but Kingdon said there's reason to be

optimistic that it may be on the wane. All the animals which have tested

positive in recent years have been older elk, suggesting that the next

generation doesn't seem to be as susceptible.

"There are no new

animals getting the disease," Kingdon said. "That gives us some real

hope that once we get rid of this older generation of animals, that

we'll actually get rid of the disease."

Cam Dahl, general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers, said farmers need a much more aggressive strategy.


said battling tuberculosis for over 20 years has taken a toll. The

constant testing of cattle herds is expensive - $14 a head - and is now

borne entirely by the farmer, Dahl said. One infected cow can mean an

entire herd needs to be destroyed and can lead to difficulty selling

beef in some markets, he noted.

It's not enough to test the elk

herd periodically, said Dahl, who suggested all levels of government

have to come together and appoint a co-ordinator who can work across all

jurisdictions to eradicate the disease.

He pointed out other jurisdictions, such as Minnesota, have managed to stamp out the disease.


status quo is not something that is sustainable and not something that

we would like to see continue. Producers in that area do need to see the

disease eradicated."

In addition to the federal effort, provincial officials say they are also doing what they can.


Davis, a biologist with Manitoba Conservation, said hunters are

required to provide biological samples to keep tabs on diseased animals

outside of the national park. But they don't actively seek out the

animals, he said.

"It's very difficult. You can't tell from just looking at a live animal if it has a disease or not."


Douma, a veterinarian with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural

Initiatives, said farmers themselves have a role to play in curbing TB.


is spread primarily through shared hay bales if they are not protected

from wild elk. That's why many provincial programs are aimed at keeping

elk from interacting with livestock using proper fencing and dogs, Douma


"That basically prevents or reduces the number of wildlife

that come on to your property and then, if they do come on to your

property, hopefully that feed is being held behind a wildlife-proof

fence," he said.