The mystery of why hundreds of elk in Wyoming were suddenly falling to the ground dead has been solved. At least 289 elk have died in south-central Wyoming since early February. They slump to the ground and are unable get up again, so that many of them eventually die of thirst. Unlike recent deaths of wild game in other areas, these elk are not dying from a version of Mad Cow Disease.

Mead Gruver writes that elk eat different foods than antelope and deer, so scientists thought there might be some toxins in their food. State wildlife biologist Greg Hiatt says, “The thing that really makes this unusual is we have about 50 elk that are about 10 miles north of this herd?and they’re fine.”

Sarah Cooke writes that a lichen native to the Rockies has now been blamed for the deaths. Veterinarians began to suspect the lichen after finding it in the stomachs of many of the elk that died. When healthy elk were fed the lichen under controlled conditions, they exhibited the same symptoms as the ones that became sick in the wild.

The lichen is known as Parmelia molliuscula and produces an acid which breaks down muscle tissue. So why hasn’t this type of elk death been noticed before? It’s because elk that are native to Wyoming have evolved to become unaffected by the lichen. The dead elk are those that recently arrived from Colorado, and the Colorado state line is close to where most of the deaths occurred.

But why did so many elk migrate from Colorado this year? Game and Fish spokesman Tom Reed says, “?Why hasn’t this happened before? Does a long history of drought weigh in somehow? If so, what are our management options in the future?”

One mystery that hasn’t been solved is the mystery of what’s going on in the Bermuda Triangle. Don’t let anyone tell you the dangers there are over?they’re still happening today!

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