Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wild About Elk: Elk And People-Issues With Elk: Part II: Artificial Feeding

Hand Feeding Of Elk Is Risky, And Is Illegal In Pennsylvania: Photo by W.Hill
According to WCO McDowell, the PGC suspects feeding as the cause of death for 12 elk, but only four cases have been confirmed in laboratory tests. One workshop attendee questioned why elk could die from eating corn, but it was not a threat to deer. At this point Mr. McDowell explained that deer are also vulnerable and dealt with the situation in depth.

His presentation covered much of the information given in  PGC News Release #088-09 "ARTIFICIAL FEEDING CONFIRMED IN DEATHS OF FOUR ELK: GAME COMMISSION SAYS LITTER CAUSING RISK TO WILDLIFE  Source: The Pennsylvania Game Commission:-Resources-News Releases-1999-2009 Archives

The following is a pertinent excerpt from the Release:

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials recently reported that there have been four cases involving elk that have died of rumen acidosis, which is directly related to artificial feeding that causes an abrupt change in an elk’s diet that wreaks havoc with its digestive system. Feeding elk is illegal, as it causes problems by habituating elk to find food around homes and can be dangerous to those who attempt to feed elk by hand. So far, we have been able to document four cases of such deaths,” said Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian. “There have been other deaths that believed may have been caused by such feeding, but, in those cases the animal was either decomposed or other circumstances prevented it from obtaining the carcass in time for laboratory analysis to take place.”

Dr. Cottrell explained that elk, as well as white-tailed deer, adapt to a winter diet of primarily woody vegetation and they will die of acidosis caused by a build up of lactic acid in the rumen, chambers of its four-part stomach that is responsible for fermentation of food. If they consume too much high-fermentable grain, such as corn, which is the most common artificial feed put out by local residents, the pH level falls quickly and a shock-like syndrome can occur.

Local residents have been issued citations for the illegal feeding. In one case, an elk was found lying dead on a pile of corn. In another case, a resident dragged the carcass of a dead elk into the woods in an attempt to conceal the situation.

We need to have local residents and district justices understand that the well intentioned individuals are actually killing elk,” Dr. Cottrell said. “For those who truly enjoy seeing elk it is best for them to stop artificially feeding elk and other wildlife. It would be far more beneficial if they were to implement some form of habitat improvement producing cover to reduce weather-related stress or food in the form of digestible native plants on their property.”

PGC Recommends Landowners Plant Food And Cover To Attract Wildlife: Photo by W.Hill

Elk Feeding In PGC Food Plot (herbaceous opening) Planted In Grain: Photo by W.Hill
Some view the news release with a certain degree of skepticism and point out that they have not seen or heard of large numbers of deer lying dead in corn fields left standing into the winter and in their opinion this should be no different than animals eating corn at a feeder.  I recently spoke with a retired PGC Maintenance Supervisor who began working for the agency in the 1960s at a time when they still planted food plots in corn, which was left stand for winter wildlife food. This was at a time that the deer population was not large enough to decimate the corn before it ripened, and it was common to go into winter with a field loaded with corn ears, yet he only recalls finding one dead deer in these fields. In light of this, it seems likely that the problem is caused by sudden exposure to a large amount of corn such as when a truck-load is abruptly dumped in an area, and not simply feeding on corn per se. Dr. Cottrell refers to this when he mentions, "if they consume too much highly fermentable grain such as corn". Those deer utilizing a corn field may have gradually become accustomed to the change in diet as the corn ripened and thus avoided problems.

Much supplemental feeding is done on a small scale, or occurs when animals raid bird feeders,etc. and is not as likely to be lethal as large scale operations, but all are well advised to remember that intentional artificial feeding of elk or bears is illegal under the Pennsylvania Game And Wildlife Code.

To be continued:
Originally Posted At:Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Unknown said...

Good information for thought and application. I am starting to better understand how the conclusion that feeding can cause death.

V.L. Locey said...

Another good post Willard. Seeing that person hand feeding an elk made me cringe. How dangerous is that I wondered. *Shakes head*

Rajesh said...

Very informative. Why should they hand feed them. They are big enough to know what to do.

Bradley Hsi said...

A very good and important post. It is better left the nature be itself.

Anonymous said...

Really interesing reading! It is almost always better to leave nature to itself.

Andy said...

A good read that is very informative.