Elk Pregnancy Rates Ailing in Pennsylvania

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Pregnancy rates of cow elk in Pennsylvania are lower than usual and researchers are trying to determine why that is.

“We collected blood samples during our hunting season for elk, which happens in the first full week of November, and we’ve been testing for pregnancy, and it’s been suspiciously low. Around 55 to 60 percent,” said Jeremy Banfield, Pennsylvania Game Commission elk biologist, who also noted the pregnancy rates in November would ideally be at around 90 percent. “So, we are collecting blood samples now, later in the season, to see if pregnancy increased. Basically, we want to see that if you give the animals more time to breed, will pregnancy go up.”

Biologists are targeting female elk, three and a half years of age and older. They must first locate a group of animals, visually identify an individual they hope to collect samples from, then close in, getting into range for a clean shot with an air powered gun that fires darts that deliver the immobilizing chemicals that sedate the elk long enough for samples to be collected.

“When you have either low pregnancy or late pregnancy, it obviously influences the population. So, we are trying to deduce what’s going on here so we can hopefully correct it in the future,” Banfield said. “You want the animals to be bred in as short of a window as possible. Early on in late September is the prime period. The reason is that the rut [breeding season] is rough on both genders, especially bulls that can lose up to 20 percent of their body weight.”

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(Photo source: Penn State University/Steve Harmic)