Some of the elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) of the Greater Yellowstone Area (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana; USA) are infected with Brucella abortus, the bacterium that causes bovine brucellosis. Brucella abortus strain RB51 vaccine is being considered as a means to control B. abortus induced abortions in cow elk. However, the most probable vaccination strategies for use in free-ranging elk might also result in some bull elk being inoculated, thus, it is important to insure that the vaccine is safe in these animals. In the winter of 1995, 10 free-ranging bull elk calves were captured, tested for B. abortus antibodies, and intramuscularly inoculated with 1.0 × 109 colony forming units (CFU) of B. abortus strain RB51. Blood was collected for hemoculture and serology every 2 wk after inoculation for 14 wk. Beginning 4 mo postinoculation and continuing until 10 mo postinoculation elk were serially euthanized, necropsied, and tissues collected for culture and histopathology. These elk cleared the organism from the blood within 6 wk and from all tissues within 10 mo. No lesions attributable to B. abortus were found grossly and only minimal to mild lymphoplasmacytic epididymitis was found in a few elk on histologic examination. In a separate study, six adult bull elk from Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota, USA) were taken to a ranch near Carrington (North Dakota, USA). Three were orally inoculated with approximately 1.0 × 1010 CFU of RB51 and three were inoculated with corn syrup and saline. Ninety days post-inoculation semen was examined and cultured from these bulls. Strain RB51 was not cultured from their semen at that time. There were no palpable abnormalities in the genital tract and all elk produced viable sperm. Although they contain small sample sizes, these studies suggest that B. abortus strain RB51 is safe in bull elk.
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