Montana probes bison deaths near Yellowstone Park

May 20, 2013 The Associated Press

MISSOULA, Mont. -- State veterinarians in Montana have been sent to examine bison carcasses north of Yellowstone National Park amid fears the bison might have acquired a deadly disease from domestic sheep.

Pat Flowers of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks tells the Independent Record ( that a veterinarian from his agency and the state Department of Livestock this weekend hope to do necropsies on the bison.

At least two bison and possibly four or more have been found dead in the last week.

The Gallatin Wildlife Asso-ciation said state officials should check for the presence of malignant catarrhal fever that can be transferred from domestic sheep to bison, cattle, deer and moose.

"There are dead bison and we don't know why," said the association's Kathryn QannaYahu. "The ones in the river didn't have any obvious cuts or scrapes. We just want this to be investigated because we don't want to see an outbreak of malignant catarrhal fever."

Two dead bison were found near rental cabins in the Beattle Gulch area. One was in the river and the other near it. Another was spotted off Highway 89 but was gone by Friday, and QannaYahu said hikers found more inside the park's northern border.

QannaYahu said authorities should see if there's a connection with the recent introduction of domestic sheep near the park's northern border.

"It's not unusual to have dead bison in the river at this time of year; we have winter kill that float down in high water," Flowers said. "But the presence of domestic sheep is something new for us there, so we decided we would check it out."

FWP veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey said the bison will be examined for evidence of trauma or disease.

She said they'll also be tested for anthrax that bison can pick up from nature. She said if those tests are negative, the bison's internal organs will be examined, looking for malignant catarrhal fever or some other possible cause.

"But we don't know how long the bison have been out there,"

she said. "Imagine them in the water, and with the relatively warm weather that we had, I don't know if the organs won't be decomposed to the point where we can't get a sample."

Tissue samples will be sent to state labs, she said.

Department of Livestock Veterinarian Martin Zaluski said malignant catarrhal fever is often found in sheep populations even though it doesn't appear to harm them.

"But I'd be very cautious about making that the focus of the investigation into the deaths at this point," Zaluski said. "There's no clinical testing, no diagnostics -- it's just speculation at this point. We need to let the investigation take its course."

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