Emerging diseases and expanding carnivore populations may have profound implications for ungulate harvest management and population regulation. To better understand effects of chronic wasting disease (CWD) and cougar (Puma concolor) predation, we studied mortality and recruitment of elk (Cervus elaphus) at Wind Cave National Park (WICA) during 2005–2009. We marked 202 elk (83 subadult M and 119 subadult and ad F) with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars, observed 28 deaths during 74,220 days of monitoring, and investigated 42 additional deaths of unmarked elk found dead. Survival rates were similar for males and females and averaged 0.863 (SE = 0.025) annually. Leading causes of mortality included hunting (0.065, SE = 0.019), CWD (0.034, SE = 0.012), and cougar predation (0.029, SE = 0.012). Marked elk killed by hunters and cougars typically were in good physical condition and not infected with CWD. Effects of mortality on population growth were exacerbated by low rates of pregnancy (subadults = 9.5%, SE = 6.6%; ad = 76.9%, SE = 4.2%) and perinatal survival (0.49, SE = 0.085 from 1 Feb to 1 Sep). Chronic wasting disease, increased predation, and reduced recruitment reduced the rate of increase for elk at WICA to approximately λ = 1.00 (SE = 0.027) during the past decade. Lower rates of increase are mitigating effects of elk on park vegetation, other wildlife, and neighboring lands and will facilitate population control, but may reduce opportunities for elk hunting outside the park.
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Vol. 75 • No. 1