An elk was found dead in Rusk County this month, likely after it ate corn put out by a landowner who was only trying to help wildlife during the winter months, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
The animal died from rumen acidosis, a direct result from eating the corn. Feeding elk anywhere in Wisconsin is illegal.
There is no treatment for rumen acidosis in wild ruminants because they are typically found dead. Likewise there is no treatment for those who escape death but have permanently damaged rumen lining.
Rumen acidosis occurs when wild or domestic ruminants like deer, elk, moose, cattle and sheep ingest large quantities of readily digestible and highly fermentable carbohydrates, usually grain. Corn, wheat, and barley are most commonly responsible for rumen acidosis, while apples, grapes, bread, and sugar beets are less commonly involved.
This disease occurs in wild deer, elk, and moose when they suddenly gain access to a source of grain.
The elk, a young bull, was part of a group of animals transferred last April from Kentucky to Wisconsin. It had been released in the Flambeau River State Forest.
It died on private property near Tony in Rusk County, southwest of the state forest.
The elk was wearing an orange GPS tracking collar that emitted a mortality signal in late December.
In this case, the landowner was baiting a stand site for deer hunting as archery was still open, according to DNR deer and elk ecologist Kevin Wallenfang.
“The elk started eating the bait without his knowledge,” Wallenfang said. “There was also standing corn in the area, so there is no way of knowing exactly where the elk got all the corn that was in his belly.”
The landowner has since stopped baiting and feeding, which is the law once an elk starts hitting a baited or feed site, Wallenfang said.Once widespread in Wisconsin and across North America, elk were eliminated from the state in the 1880s due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss. Over 130 years later, they once again live in the central and northern forest regions of the state. From a population of 25 elk reintroduced in 1995, and with the help of a second reintroduction efforts that started in 2015, the state’s total elk population is quickly approaching 400 animals.
Overall the elk reintroduction is going great, but Wallenfang said these situations are never pleasant.
Read more in this week's Jan. 16 print edition of the Ladysmtih News.