Domestic elk found with CWD in Penrose |

Domestic elk found with CWD in Penrose

Susan Cunningham

A 4-year-old bull elk from an elk ranch near Penrose has tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

The elk was killed during a hunt in January, according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Officials with the Colorado Department of Agriculture could not be reached for comment.

The elk was born at the Top Rail Ranch but has been living about 30 miles away at the ranch’s hunt park since March 2002, according to the news release.

At this time, the ranch’s 381 elk are under quarantine — 323 at the home facility, and 58 at the hunting facility, according to the release.

“At this time, we’re working with the owner of the elk ranch to discuss the next step that needs to be taken,” said Wayne Cunningham, state veterinarian at the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “We plan to have a resolution soon.”

Depopulation has been the department’s solution at other ranches where the disease is found. Two exceptions to that rule have been the Motherwell Ranch, a 1,800-acre ranch just south of Craig, and the small Velvet Ridge ranch in Fort Collins.

Two elk have tested positive for CWD at the Motherwell Ranch, with the most recent positive result coming in the past year, while the ranch already was under quarantine for the first case. The Department of Agriculture is working on a herd plan to determine what will happen with the remaining 200-plus Motherwell elk.

In the past five years, the Top Rail Ranch has tested 248 elk for the disease, and all have come back negative. Most of the elk were raised on the ranch.

There are no live tests for the disease, which is thought to be caused by an abnormally folded protein that eats holes in its victims’ brains and eventually kills.

In related news, an adult mule deer buck killed by a hunter Dec. 24 at Fort Carson, south of Colorado Springs, tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The case marks the farthest south that the disease has been found along the Front Range, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Between Aug. 28 and Jan. 5, the heads of 12,460 deer, elk and moose killed by hunters statewide have been submitted for CWD testing. CWD has been detected in 135 animals during that period — in 112 mule deer, three white-tailed deer and 20 elk — according to the DOW.

Most cases were from areas in which the disease previously was detected. Hunters are not required to submit their kills.

Tom Cox, president of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association, stressed that elk breeders across the state have been very careful to monitor the disease, as all domestic elk deaths are required to be tested.

“I don’t want people thinking that Colorado elk breeders don’t care about the disease,” Cox said. “We feel like the infection is still coming from outside of our fences because we are so well monitored.”

Cox said he thinks elk breeders are finding the disease on their own land because they are monitoring so closely, while monitoring is not required of hunters.

The Fort Carson facility comes within a couple of miles of the Top Rail Ranch breeding facility, Cox said.

Cox said the owner of the ranch is Ron Walker, former president of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association. Walker could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Walker has tested every fatality at his ranch during the past seven years, Cox said.

— To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail

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