SHERIDAN — Cattle producers, hunters and anyone else concerned about the recent evidence of brucellosis-stricken elk in the Bighorn Mountains will have an opportunity to learn more about the state’s response at a meeting Monday hosted by Moxey Schreiber Veterinary Hospital.
The free event will feature a presentation by Bob Meyer, Wyoming Livestock Board assistant state veterinarian, who will outline specifics of the recent findings by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in addition to discussing specifics about the disease and what producers can do to protect their herds.
A bacterial disease that causes infected animals to abort their unborn fetuses, brucellosis is a major concern among the state’s population of ranchers.
Cattle risk contracting the disease when exposed to aborted elk tissue. And as a state that specializes heavily in calf exportation, an infected herd could prove to be economically devastating for most producers.
Thanks to a brucellosis eradication program that took root midway through the 20th Century, Wyoming has — with one regional exception — been brucellosis-free for decades. But earlier this year the Wyoming Game and Fish Department announced that two elk harvested by hunters late in 2012 tested positive for exposure the disease.
Without tissue samples, however, it is impossible to know whether the animals were actually infected.
“We have a degree of concern,” Meyer told The Sheridan Press earlier this week. “We just need to get more information at this point.”
The animals were taken Oct. 18 in elk hunt area 40, approximately 15 miles west of Burgess Junction.
The hunters responsible for the kills submitted blood samples as part of the Game and Fish Department’s voluntary brucellosis surveillance program.
Those samples led scientists to believe they may had been exposed.
Meyer said his agency is unsure of exactly how that might have happened, since brucellosis is widely believed to have been eradicated in every part of the state except the area immediately surrounding Yellowstone National Park.
He added that evidence of an affected animal had never before been found outside that region.
“The economic impact could be significant,” he said. “We just need to investigate at this point.”
While there is currently no evidence to suggest that local cattle have been exposed to the disease, Tammy Gorzalka, office manager at Moxey Schreiber Veterinary Hospital, said ranchers are nonetheless worried that buyers in other states might begin demanding brucellosis tests prior to finalizing their purchases.
Currently, cattle producers outside the Yellowstone area are not required to perform the test.
Gorzalka said that in addition to updating residents on the most recent developments of the situation, she hopes Monday’s meeting — and similar events around Wyoming — will help convince buyers in other parts of the county that area ranchers take the threat of brucellosis to heart.
The meeting will take place April 15 at 7 p.m. in the CTEL presentation hall at Sheridan College.