Several elk in southwestern Montana’s Ruby Mountains have been exposed to brucellosis. State officials say it’s the first time the disease has reached elk in the area.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region Three spokesperson Morgan Jacobsen says recent test results showed two elk had antibodies to brucellosis.
“So it doesn’t necessarily mean they carry the disease. It just means that they’ve been exposed to it,” Jacobsen says.
Brucellosis spreads when cattle, elk and bison come into contact with infected birth tissues and fluids. The disease can cause pregnant females to abort their fetuses or give birth to weak calves.
FWP tested 100 elk in the Ruby Mountains this year as part of the ongoing Targeted Elk Brucellosis Surveillance Project to monitor the disease in elk herds and their migration patterns.
Jacobsen says this research provides important data on the overlap between elk and livestock on the landscape, which could help inform future management decisions.
“This is the first time that exposure to brucellosis has been detected in the Ruby Mountains since that surveillance project has begun so it’s something we’re watching closely,” Jacobsen says.
The Ruby Mountains are currently outside but near the Montana Department of Livestock’s Designated Surveillance Area boundary for high surveillance and testing for the disease.
Montana State Veterinarian Martin Zaluski said in a press release that the Department of Livestock “appreciates the continued partnership with FWP which helps us identify where livestock are potentially at risk.”