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Tick infested elk remain contained

Wildlife officials are reviewing options to curb the infestation of winter ticks among Yukon’s elk population.

Wildlife officials are reviewing options to curb the infestation of winter ticks among Yukon’s elk population.

 But now full tick eradication is “impossible,” they report.

A two-day workshop was held between Environment Yukon officials and Outside experts to review options to deal with the tick problem.

The ticks are here to stay. Even killing off the Yukon’s elk herds wouldn’t get rid of them.

But, even though the ticks can’t be wiped out, there is value in reducing their numbers, said workshop participants.

The official findings will be compiled in a report for Environment Minister Dennis Fentie. He’ll make the final decision.

“We heard a wide range of suggestions and solutions about how we should deal with the situation, ranging from penning and holding the elk, to getting rid of the elk, to medicated feed,” said Rick Ward, an elk biologist with Environment Yukon.

The situation was extremely complex and posed numerous uncertainties, said officials.

Medicated feed would provide the elk with doses of the anti-tick drug ivermectin.

The drug is used frequently on livestock, but a 35-day term is always observed between the drug’s ingestion and slaughter of the animal.

 If the feed is consumed by other game animals, the risk exists that those animals could be harvested and eaten by people before the 35-day period has elapsed.

A potential solution could be the establishment of “monitored feed stations,” said veterinarian Michelle Oakley.

Even so, the risk from ivermectin is minimal.

“You’d have to eat an entire deer for one human to get enough ivermectin to treat their own parasites,” said Oakley, quoting a United States department of Agriculture representative who attended the workshop.

Roughly 80 per cent of the Takhini herd, 130 elk, are currently confined to a pen.

Environment Yukon estimates that 150 to 200 elk live in the Takhini area and 50 to 75 live in the Braeburn area.

The tick poses no risk to humans.

“This tick focuses on ungulates; it will not stick to people,” said Oakley.

A primary concern is that it could begin to infest the Yukon’s caribou and moose populations, which are particularly susceptible to the tick because they are less adept at grooming.

“If this thing snowballed and the density of ticks rose to a level where moose are picking up significant amounts (of ticks) there could well be a danger to moose,” said Philip Merchant, a lab co-ordinator for the Yukon’s Environment department.

“At this stage, moose are certainly not dying.”

No infested moose have yet been identified. The last reported case of a moose infested with winter ticks occurred in Eastern Yukon in the mid 1990s.

Environment officials expect Fentie to make a final decision on the group’s recommendations “soon.”

“We need to start acting right away,” said Oakley. “There’s lots of logistics and groundwork that need to be done really, really soon and we definitely can’t wait until winter.”

Officials want citizens to report any sightings of tick-infested animals, a condition indicated by hair loss occurring in late winter.

They estimate addressing the winter tick problem has cost $100,000 to date.