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Wildlife vet will discuss hazards of illegal feeding of elk, deer

From the Pennsylvania Game Commission

-- Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Walter Cottrell will discuss the harmful effects of winter feeding elk and deer Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. at the Elk Country Visitor's Center, 134 Homestead Dr., Benezette Township, Elk County.  

"While feeding elk is illegal any time of the year because it causes problems by habituating elk to find food around homes, it can be dangerous to those who attempt to feed elk by hand. Those who violate this law also put elk at risk," Cottrell said. "In 2009, there were four cases involving elk that died of rumen acidosis, which is directly related to artificial feeding.  

"There were other deaths that we believed were caused by such feeding, but, in those cases the animal was either decomposed or other circumstances prevented us from obtaining the carcass in time for laboratory analysis to take place."  

As part of his 30-minute presentation, Dr. Cottrell will outline how elk and white-tailed deer adapt to winter diets primarily of woody vegetation. They can die of acidosis caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the rumen, which is the chamber of a deer or elk's four-part stomach responsible for fermentation of food.  

If elk or deer consume too much highly-fermentable grain, such as corn-the most common artificial feed put out during winter-the pH level falls quickly and a shock-like syndrome can occur.

Wildlife conservation officers have cited residents in the elk range for the illegal feeding of elk.  In one case, an elk was found lying dead on a pile of corn, and the resident dragged it into the woods in an attempt to conceal the situation.

"This presentation is geared to help local residents and camp owners understand that the well-intentioned individuals who are illegally feeding the elk are actually creating a situation in which they may be killing the 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."

For more information on the problems associated with feeding deer and elk, see the Game Commission's website, and check the related information section.

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