Approximately one third of the elk imported to West Virginia from Arizona in 2018 are dead. The culprit is a brain parasite called brainworm, which are common in whitetail deer and do not affect them.
“The deer excrete brainworm eggs, and the eggs get ingested by snails and slugs,” Randy Kelley, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) elk project leader, told the Herald-Dispatch. “When elk graze on grass, they pick up the snails by accident. The worms work their way out of the elk’s rumens, get into the bloodstream and end up in the brain.”
And from there, elk eventually weaken and die.
The DNR also questions the length of time the translocated elk spent in quarantine. After capture in Arizona, they spent 30 days in a holding pen to undergo testing. Once on the ground in West Virginia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture required they spend 90 more days in holding to undergo additional testing.