This elk looks like it is starving, yet it has plenty of food in the Tule Elk Reserve at Tomales Point. I’m not an expert, but the most likely cause of this animal’s condition is Johne’s Disease.
Johne’s (pronounced “Yo-nees”) Disease is a bacterial disease that affects the small intestine of ruminants (cows, sheep, elk, deer etc). It is caused by Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (“MAP”). It embeds itself in the wall of the lower part of the small intestine. As an immune response, the walls of the small intestine become thicker. This thickening prevents the absorption of nutrients. As a result, the animal loses weight and dies. It is believed to have started in Europe and it is now a world-wide problem. Sixty-eight percent of dairy herds in the United States are infected with MAP. MAP leaves or exits infected animals in feces and milk. It can survive outside a host animal for up to a year. Even if the mother is not infected, her young can acquire it from her teats if they are contaminated with MAP-carrying manure. Once it is in a herd it is virtually impossible to remove. The above info was obtained from the following sites: site1, site2.
NPS is aware that the herd is infected with Johne’s disease. I don’t know to what extent research has been done on the herd. Some of the questions I have wondered about are: How many of the elk that die each year at Point Reyes die from MAP? The herd at the Tule Elk Preserve does not seem to be growing. What role does MAP play in that? The Limantour herd came from the Preserve. Is the mortality rate the same for both herds? How many dairy ranches at Point Reyes have MAP-infected herds? Is MAP increasing at Point Reyes?