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Game Commission: Elk dies after overdosing on corn

By: WJAC Web Staff

BYRNEDALE, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Game Commission is investigating after a bull elk was found dead earlier this month in Elk County. Investigators believe the animal may have died after it was fed by people and officials warn that it's illegal to feed the wildlife.

Officers with the PGC said the elk was found dead in the Byrnedale area on Jan. 9. Following several tests done on the animal, officers believe it died as a result of rumen acidosis, a disorder that affects wild animals, like deer and elk, and domestic animals, like cattle and sheep.

The disorder is linked to when carbohydrates, such as grain and corn, are suddenly introduced to the animal's diet, officers said.

Game officials said elk and deer diets vary by where they live and can change throughout the year. Their bodies are able to adjust to natural change, but if foods that they don't typically eat are introduced quickly and they eat a lot of them, they can be fatal.

In the case of this elk, officials said it ate too much corn, causing its body to produce too much lactic acid, leading to its death. An elk's diet usually consists of grasses and other soft vegetation.

Officials said it's not clear how the animal came in contact with so much corn, but it's likely someone intentionally placed the corn in the wild, perhaps believing it would help the wildlife given this month's extremely cold weather.

Rumen acidosis can also be caused by wheat and barley, officials said. Apples, grapes, bread and sugar beets can also cause the disorder, but are not commonly involved. Animals severely affected by the disorder usually die within 24 to 72 hours.

PGC officials remind residents that it is illegal to feed an elk anywhere in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Director Cal DuBrock said it's important to allow an animal's natural instincts to take over.

"In a natural setting, most wildlife will change their behaviors to adapt to colder temperatures and scarcer food supplies," DuBrock said. "Supplemental feeding can alter that behavior and have detrimental and sometimes fatal effects."

Officials said the investigation into the death of the 6- by 7-point trophy elk was ongoing.

Officers said this situation is a reminder to residents that feeding wildlife can make them dependent on food, which can cause other problems for them and people.

For example, officials said feeding bears or setting food out for bears can cause them to enter neighborhoods and cause damage. It is also illegal to intentionally leave food out for bears in Pennsylvania.

Intentionally feeding animals can also increase the risk of diseases spreading between animals and exposing them to predators they would not usually encounter, officers said.

Those convicted of illegally feeding wildlife can face hundreds of dollars in fines and court costs and additional penalties if the animals die.

"These are things to think about when placing out food for wildlife," DuBrock said. "Those who want to help wildlife should also know about the potential for harm that could result from their actions."

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times