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Published October 12, 2009, 11:11 AM

Manitoba farmers calling for cull of wild elk after rise in cases of bovine TB

An outbreak of bovine tuberculosis in western Manitoba has farmers calling for a cull of wild elk in the province.

By: Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG — Bovine tuberculosis carried by wild elk is increasingly threatening some Manitoba cattle herds, prompting farmers to call for a cull of the animals before more cows succumb to the disease.

Cattle and wild elk have lived side-by-side for well over a century around Riding Mountain National Park in western Manitoba. But the elk have a habit of grazing in cattle pastures bordering the park, sharing hay with cattle and drinking from the same streams. That has led to a rise recently in the number of cases of bovine tuberculosis. In the last eight years, 43 elk and 10 white-tailed deer have tested positive for the disease.

Farmers say the threat is driving down the price of their exported cattle and forcing them to do costly testing of their herds. When a cow contracts the disease, a farmer can lose an entire herd and even some family pets. There is also concern that the disease could be passed to humans.

Farmers are calling for a cull of the elk — either by hunters or conservation officers — and increased testing of the carcasses.

Cattle producer Ray Armbruster says it might be distasteful to some, but the livelihood of farmers is at stake. Some cattle herds in western Manitoba have already had to be destroyed and cattle from the region can be discounted at the American border, he said.

Some 200,000 cattle are tested every year at great expense and stress to the region’s farmers, he adds.

Conservation officers have asked hunters to turn in organs for testing and some diseased animals have been destroyed. Many farmers have successfully installed high fencing around hay bales with the help of both levels of government. Others could still put hay bales around the edge of their property, feeding the elk without giving them reason to venture further onto pasture.

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