There were no positive bovine tuberculosis test results in Riding Mountain National Park this past year and that shows eradication measures are working, according to project manager Ken Kingdon.
“It makes us feel optimistic that the program is working, but we’re not really ready to say that our program is done,” said Kingdon.
“We’re not going to be standing in front of a banner saying, ‘Mission Accomplished’ a la George Bush.”
Only two animals in the area, one elk and one white-tailed deer, tested positive for TB. Both were shot outside the park’s boundary and were turned in through Manitoba Conservation’s Hunter Surveillance Program.
Also, no elk born after 2003 have tested positive for TB. That shows disease transmission reduction strategies such as hay barrier fencing on farms with livestock and restrictions on baiting for hunting purposes are working, said Kingdon.
Officials tested about the same number of animals this year as in 2003 when 13 positive tests were produced. Since 1992, a total of 43 elk
and 11 white-tailed deer have tested positive for TB inside the park eradication area.
The government is spending $1 million on its 2010-11 TB Management Strategy, which is founded on a test-and- remove approach. About 230 elk will be captured by helicopter net gun teams, blood tested, radio collared, and released at a cost of roughly $1,500 each. Animals will only be recaptured and removed for a full necropsy if blood samples test suspicious for TB. Past experience indicates that some 50 reactors are likely to be found.
Testing elk in such high numbers will yield more information about the apparent decline of disease in elk in the core area, added Kingdon, and help determine if the past year’s results were a “fluke.”
A side benefit of testing, he said, is a lower elk population in the so-called “core area” of disease on the park’s west side which is estimated to be 350 animals. Two hundred of those animals will be caught and tested this year, along with 30 cows in the central zone. The current elk population of 2,000 animals in the entire park is down from a peak of 5,000 in 1998.
This year, the prevalence of TB in whitetail deer is being given a greater focus, with about 50 head slated to be removed and tested.
In December, 23 deer were shot inside the park by First Nations hunters who were paid $700 each under a contract with Parks Canada. The rest will be caught in January via helicopter net gunning.
In a research study being conducted with the University of Manitoba, 20 deer will be captured in box traps and via helicopters, then radio collared and released in order to study their movement patterns in the area.
– KEN KINGDON