Cumberland Times-News

February 1, 2014

Elk Poisoned

Well-meaning ‘cornaholics’ bring about death of trophy Pa. bull


Cumberland Times-News

— HARRISBURG, Pa. — A

trophy bull elk was found

dead in early January on

Pennsylvania’s elk range,

the apparent victim of winter

wildlife feeding. It is

illegal to feed elk.

Test results returned

last week cited rumen acidosis

as causing the death

of the 6x7-point bull found

Jan. 9 in Byrnedale, Elk

County. The disorder

affects wild deer and elk, as

well as domestic animals

such as cattle and sheep,

and in wild animals often is

linked to supplemental

feeding by humans.

Rumen acidosis is

brought on by the sudden

introduction of carbohydrates,

usually grain and

often corn, to an animal’s

diet, according to the Pennsylvania

Game Commission.

The diets of wild deer

and elk vary by their home

ranges, and often change

throughout the year. Their

bodies adjust to accommodate

those changes, but if

their diets change suddenly

rather than gradually,

their bodies are unable to

digest the newly introduced

food. If they eat

enough of that food, it can

kill them.

That appears to be what

happened with the bull elk.

An elk’s diet is made up

mostly of grasses and

other soft vegetation.

When the bull suddenly

overloaded on corn, its

body produced too much

lactic acid in an attempt to

digest this new food, causing

its death.

Though it’s not yet clear

how the bull came in contact

with the corn on which

it fed, it’s likely the corn

was placed intentionally by

humans, perhaps because

they believed their actions

would help wildlife. The

incident occurred just after

a nasty cold snap, a time

when concerned individuals

begin to worry about

the survivability of wildlife.

As shown by this case,

intentional feeding can

have a counter effect of

harming wildlife, according

to commission spokesmen.

Additionally, the feeding

of elk anywhere in Pennsylvania

is illegal, meaning

that if the bull’s death

stems from intentional

feeding, it also stems from

an illegal act.

“Most times, the best

way to help wildlife make it

through the winter is to

step back and allow the

animals’ instincts to take

over,” said Cal DuBrock,

director of the Pennsylvania

Game Commission’s

Bureau of Wildlife Management.

“In a natural setting,

most wildlife will change

their behaviors to adapt to

colder temperatures and

scarcer food supplies. Supplemental

feeding can alter

that behavior and have

detrimental, and sometimes

fatal, effects.

An investigation into the

circumstances that led to

bull’s death is ongoing. But

the incident serves as a

timely reminder on the law

prohibiting the feeding of

elk, as well as other concerns

associated with the

supplemental feeding of

wildlife.

While the feeding of

wildlife remains legal in

many circumstances, there

are some accompanying

risks.

Supplemental feeding

can cause animals to lose

their natural fear of

humans, which can cause

problems for both the animals

and other people. For

this reason, it is unlawful to

intentionally place any food

or other substance that

causes bears to congregate

or habituate in an area.

Bears that become habituated

to humans often

become nuisances, causing

property damage and creating

other problems.

Supplemental feeding

also causes animals to concentrate

at unnaturally

high densities, increasing

their risk of spreading disease

to one another, giving

predators an advantage

and exposing them to other

dangers they otherwise

might not encounter.

Among other reasons,

the supplemental feeding

of elk remains unlawful

because it can encourage

the elk to spend more time

near population centers

where the potential for

conflict with humans

increases.

Those convicted of illegally

feeding wildlife face

penalties of hundreds of

dollars in fines and court

costs, and additional penalties

could result if an animal

dies because of illegal

feeding.

Rumen acidosis can be

caused by foods other than

corn.