Winter Wildlife Feeding Suspected in Bull Elk’s
ELK COUNTY-A trophy bull elk was found dead
earlier this month on Pennsylvania’s elk range, the apparent victim of winter
wildlife feeding, which is illegal for elk.
results returned last week cited rumen acidosis as causing the death of the 6-
by 7-point bull found Jan. 9 in Byrnedale, Elk County. The disorder affects
wild deer and elk, as well as domestic animals such as cattle and sheep, and in
wild animals often is linked to supplemental feeding by humans.
acidosis is brought on by the sudden introduction of carbohydrates, usually
grain and often corn, to an animal’s diet.
diets of wild deer and elk vary by their home ranges, and often change
throughout the year. Their bodies adjust to accommodate those changes, but if
their diets change suddenly rather than gradually, their bodies are unable to
digest the newly introduced food. If they eat enough of that food, it can kill
appears to be what happened with the bull elk. An elk’s diet is made up mostly
of grasses and other soft vegetation. When the bull suddenly overloaded on
corn, its body produced too much lactic acid in an attempt to digest this new
food, causing its death.
it’s not yet clear how the bull came in contact with the corn on which it fed,
it’s likely the corn was placed intentionally by humans, perhaps because they
believed their actions would help wildlife. The incident occurred just after a
nasty cold snap, a time when concerned individuals begin to worry about the
survivability of wildlife. As shown by this case, intentional feeding can have
a counter effect of harming wildlife.
the feeding of elk anywhere in Pennsylvania is illegal, meaning that if the
bull’s death stems from intentional feeding, it also stems from an illegal act.
times, the best way to help wildlife make it through the winter is to step back
and allow the animals’ instincts to take over,” said Cal DuBrock, director of
the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management. “In a natural
setting, most wildlife will change their behaviors to adapt to colder
temperatures and scarcer food supplies. Supplemental feeding can alter that
behavior and have detrimental, and sometimes fatal, effects.
investigation into the circumstances that led to bull’s death is ongoing. But
the incident serves as a timely reminder on the law prohibiting the feeding of
elk, as well as other concerns associated with the supplemental feeding of
the feeding of wildlife remains legal in many circumstances, there are some
feeding can cause animals to lose their natural fear of humans, which can cause
problems for both the animals and other people. For this reason, it is unlawful
to intentionally place any food or other substance that causes bears to congregate
or habituate in an area. Bears that become habituated to humans often become
nuisances, causing property damage and creating other problems.
feeding also causes animals to concentrate at unnaturally high densities,
increasing their risk of spreading disease to one another, giving predators an
advantage and exposing them to other dangers they otherwise might not
other reasons, the supplemental feeding of elk remains unlawful because it can
encourage the elk to spend more time near population centers where the
potential for conflict with humans increases.
convicted of illegally feeding wildlife face penalties that could include
hundreds of dollars in fines and court costs, and additional penalties could
result if an animal dies because of illegal feeding.
acidosis can be caused by many foods other than corn. Wheat and barley also are
commonly responsible for causing the disorder, while apples, grapes, bread and
sugar beets can cause the disorder, but are less commonly involved. Animals
severely afflicted by rumen acidosis typically die within 24 to 72 hours, but
the disease might also shorten the lifespans of the animals that survive the
said he can appreciate people who want to help wildlife through the winter, but
they can make a more beneficial contribution by improving wildlife habitat on
their properties. Feeding often creates more problems than it solves, and some
feeding activities are unlawful, he said.
are things to think about when placing out food for wildlife,” he said. “Those
who want to help wildlife should also know about the potential for harm that
could result from their actions.”
the official policy of the Pennsylvania Game Commission to not support the
supplemental winter feeding of game birds or game animals.