Medicated feed could curb elk ticks

Tick-toting elk will soon be getting a mouthful of medicine. In an attempt to curb the territory’s winter tick problem, the Yukon government…

Tick-toting elk will soon be getting a mouthful of medicine.

In an attempt to curb the territory’s winter tick problem, the Yukon government is introducing medicated feed.

On Thursday, more than 40 people met with government biologists to discuss possible solutions.

The meeting lasted all day and included representatives from First Nations communities.

“There are still a lot of details we have to work out,” said Fish and Wildlife biologist Rick Ward.

“There are a number of options.”

Right now, biologists plan to build a pen somewhere in the Takhini valley for the 150 elk in the Takhini herd.

Once in this pen, the elk will be fed corn containing Ivermectin — an anti-tick medication.

One dose of medicated feed is not enough to kill all the ticks on an animal, so the elk will have to be kept penned up for some time.

“At least with the pen we know the ticks will drop off in spring,” said regional biologist Michelle Oakley.

“Each of those ticks can lay several thousand eggs, so even if the medication doesn’t work, we’ve at least kept all the ticks confined to this area.”

The pen area can then be burned to kill the surviving ticks, or the fence around the area could be maintained so that moose or deer travelling through don’t get infected.

To medicate groups outside of the pen and the 85 elk in the Braeburn herd, Environment will use feeding stations.

The stations will be monitored to ensure that other animals, such as moose, do not eat the medicated feed.

“We won’t get 100 per cent, but we’re trying to get as many as we can,” said Ward.

“This is just an interim measure to try to reduce the risk of the tick spreading and it could take several years.”

The problem was discovered last March when all 20 elk captured for radio collaring showed signs of tick infestation.

Biologists were still very uncertain as to the extent of the problem in the Yukon.

“Everything we know about this parasite comes from studies done in the South,” said Dr. Craig Stephen, an expert in the detection of disease in free-ranging wildlife.

“When you put a bug in a different environment, it’s hard to tell how it’s going to adapt.”

To date, no moose or deer have been found to be carrying winter tick but it’s very possible that some are infected.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” said Stephen.

“I’m pretty confident you’re going to find it on other animals now, because everybody’s looking for it.”

During the meeting, several First Nations agreed to turn in hides collected this winter to be checked for ticks.

Early on, the group decided to put talk of an elk cull on the backburner.

“It was not a large part of the discussion,” said Ward.

“We agreed to put it aside until May.”

In May, another workshop will be held to discuss the effects of the medication plan.

Biologists are in the field experimenting with non-medicated corn to see if it will entice elk.

“We could start herding elk as soon as we can get a pen up,” said Oakley.

“Pens like these are done every winter somewhere down south so it’s not like we’re inventing the wheel.

“But conditions up here are different — in a way, we’ll have to reinvent it.”