Tuberculosis testing in Harding County expands to include wildlife
March 31, 2017
While testing is continuing on cattle that may have been exposed to a herd with bovine tuberculosis (TB) in Harding County, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is investigating the impact of the disease on wildlife in the area.
TB can be passed from one species to another, so wide-ranging wildlife poses a potential threat of spreading the disease beyond the immediate neighbors of the affected herd.
According to the South Dakota Animal Industry Board website, a public meeting was held in Buffalo, South Dakota on March 23, 2017 to give SDGFP the opportunity to provide information about a wildlife surveillance plan. Approximately 100 people attended and more watched via a live video stream.
Mike Kintigh, regional supervisor for SDGFP, said they started sampling wildlife on Monday, March 27 and he anticipated short-term sampling to continue through the week.
The animals they sampled had to have their lymph nodes removed and preserved in formalin within two hours of death, so they set up a field laboratory at the U.S. Forest Service office in Camp Crook, South Dakota.
SDGFP went door-to-door obtaining permission from the landowners within a 3 mile radius of the affected herd, where they are sampling deer—both whitetail and mule—antelope, coyotes, raccoons and other small mammals. Upon the recommendation of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), they sampled coyotes and other predators up to 20 miles away. "They're suggesting coyotes are a good indicator of how far the disease has spread, if it is in wildlife," Kintigh said.
The 20-mile radius would include both Montana and North Dakota, but Kintigh said they didn't cross state lines in their sampling. "We've been in touch with both states and advised them of what we're doing. They're standing by to see what we find before they decide if they need to sample," he said.
SDGFP used a fixed-wing airplane, which is the normal vehicle for aerial predator control, for the predators within the 20-mile radius. They used a helicopter for the wildlife within the 3-mile zone. The animals taken with the helicopter were picked up with the helicopter, and the coordinated with a ground crew to collect the coyotes shot from the plane.
According to an update on aib.sd.gov dated Thursday, March 30, the animals taken for sampling included 55 white-tailed deer, 56 mule deer, 42 pronghorn, nine raccoons and 37 coytotes. SDGFP will do no more sampling until the results of these tests come back in six to eight weeks. The next steps will be evaluated once those results are in.
Matt Gilbert, a cow-calf rancher and president of the Harding County Stockgrowers Association, said, "They came in here in pretty short order and took the samples they wanted to take. They were good about talking to landowners and avoiding people's herds, since it's calving season. As far as communication, they did good on this issue." He said they started sampling on Monday and were finished by Thursday.
"Landowner cooperation up there has been outstanding," Kintigh said. "They've been excellent to work with on sampling these animals. I don't think we've had anyone who denied us access."
Tim Brown, a fourth-generation cattle and sheep rancher from Buffalo, South Dakota, attended the meeting and said he's comfortable with the way the situation is being handled. He doesn't share a fence-line with the affected herds, and is on the outside edge of the 3-mile wildlife sampling area, but well within the 20-mile predator sampling range.
"As a whole, this community and the state have really stepped up to make sure it doesn't spread," Brown said.
"I think GFP was proactive, which I was actually kind of impressed with. Jokingly, as a sheep guy, it's nice to hear that they're going to start doing a little predator work."
TB is usually passed via nose-to-nose contact. Since it is calving season, some producers asked if it could be picked up by wildlife, such as coyotes, by eating afterbirth. Kintigh said the veterinarians responded that TB bacteria has a short life once it's outside the body, so it is unlikely to be spread through afterbirth.
Kintigh said it could be several weeks before they have test results, and they will be providing updates on Tuesdays and Fridays, which will be published to the SDAIB website at http://aib.sd.gov/BovineTB.html