Disease fears stop ‘wildlife’ imports

Domesticted elk, bison or musk-oxen will no longer be allowed to cross over the Yukon border due to concerns about the spread of animal disease.

Domesticted elk, bison or musk-oxen will no longer be allowed to cross over the Yukon border due to concerns about the spread of animal disease.

Earlier in the month, an Alberta elk imported by Circle D Ranch died soon after arriving in the Yukon.

The spread of chronic wasting disease throughout Alberta has raised alarm bells among Yukon wildlife officials.

In Alberta, if a deer tests positive for the disease, officials respond by killing every deer in a 10-kilometre radius.

But chronic wasting disease didn’t kill the elk; it was felled by capture myopathy, a condition caused by the stress of transport.

“The animals went on the trailer healthy, and one of them died when it came off—it’s just a damn shame,” said Bill Drury, owner of Circle D.

No clear link between the Circle D death and the moratorium has been established.

“It’s not a response to a specific incident, but it reflects our growing concern about managing this activity without a robust animal health program,” said Nancy Campbell, spokesperson for Environment Yukon.

When the territory welcomes its first chief veterinary officer, the import ban could be lifted.

Game farmers should not be “adversely” affected by the change, because “animal imports account for a very small part of their operations,” said a letter issued by Environment Yukon on Tuesday.

The Yukon Conservation Society “fully supports” the moratorium.

“We’ve always had grave reservations about importing wildlife from other jurisdictions,” said Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society.

The government has had firsthand experience with unfortunate wildlife imports.

In 1993, the Yukon government imported winter-tick-infested elk to bolster dwindling wild populations.

The elk were known to be infected with ticks, but officials believed the parasites couldn’t survive the frigid Yukon winter.

To date, the government has spent more than $300,000 managing the surprisingly resilient ticks.

“It is much less expensive and much easier to keep elk, deer and other ruminant populations disease-free than to attempt eradication,” noted Environment Yukon’s letter.

Drury praised the government’s “caution” in setting the moratorium.

“No farmer wants to have an unhealthy animal any more than anybody else,” said Yukon Agricultural Association executive director Rick Tone.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com