During February– April 2004, an estimated 400–500 free-ranging elk (Cervus elaphus) developed paresis, became recumbent, and died or were euthanized in the Red Rim Wildlife Habitat Management Area (RRWHMA), Wyoming, USA. Elk were found in sternal recumbency, alert and responsive, but unable to rise. Their condition progressed to lateral recumbency followed by dehydration, obtundation, and death. Gross lesions were limited to degenerative myopathy, with pallor and streaking in skeletal muscles. Microscopically, affected muscles had degenerative lesions of varying duration, severity, and distribution, some with early mineralization and attempts at regeneration. Diagnostic testing ruled out common infectious, inflammatory, toxic, and traumatic causes. Tumbleweed shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia chlorochroa) was found in the area and in the rumen of several elk. This lichen was collected and fed to three captive elk. Two of these elk exhibited signs of ataxia, which rapidly progressed to weakness and recumbency after 7 and 10 days on this diet, respectively, and a degenerative myopathy, consistent with lesions observed in the elk affected at RRWHMA, was observed. All remaining elk migrated from the RRWHMA during the spring and no subsequent losses have been documented.
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