A hunter stumbled upon a bizarre sight on a 75,000-acre ranch north of Las Vegas, N.M., on Aug. 27: the remains of more than 100 dead elk. Wildlife officials were puzzled and wild theories ran wild, but in the end science found an answer; you can read my LiveScience.com article about it HERE.
Several problems exist with Mr. Radford’s article. My comments on Mr. Radford’s reporting are in parentheses: Mr. Radford states:
“Through science and further testing of elk tissue samples and water samples, the real killer has finally been found: pond scum. Or, more specifically, a neurotoxin produced by one type of blue-green algae that can develop in warm, standing water.”
(Anatoxin-A, the “real killer” referred to, was not found in any elk tissues or water samples. No Anabaena flos aquae was identified in any elk tissues. No tell-tale algae was found around the mouths of any elk.)
“The investigation was hampered by the state of the elk: Scavengers, including bears and vultures, ate most of the bodies, with maggots and blowflies helping to reduce the elk herd to an eerie scattered sea of skeletons in the desert.”
(Most, if not all, of the bodies were in fact intact when discovered on August 27th. Photographs taken at the time show the bodies to be in a state of bloat associated with having been dead 10-14 days – or a few days before the sarin gassing in Syria. No evidence of skeletonization of elk bodies was observed.)
“”In warm weather, blooms of blue-green algae are not uncommon in farm ponds in temperate regions, particularly ponds enriched with fertilizer …”
(The Anabaena flos aquae identified was found in a sample of water taken from a developed water tank, not a pond. No mention of the water source of the fiberglass tanks has been made, except to say that they were not fed from road runoff.)
“Though anatoxin-A can be deadly to other animals, including dogs and cattle, reports of human deaths are rare.”
(Reports of human deaths from anatoxin-A are nonexistent, not rare.)
“…the real killer has finally been found …”
NMDG&F states, contrary to Mr. Radford, that they conclude that the most logical explanation of anatoxin-A poisoning is based on circumstantial evidence. This means that the explanation, although logically likely, is far from dispositive.
Mr. Radford has neglected to mention that within a few days of the NMDF&G news release, the Director of NMDG&F, Jim Lane, ‘retired’ following a closed session, agendaless, meeting of the Game Commission. The Game Commission has been tight-lipped about the reasons for firing Mr. Lane. Whether their reasons include any opposition to the Departmen releasing a conclusion based on circumstantial evidence and the closure of the investigation in the elk die off is not known.
Dear Kirby Carmichael,
If you have new information about the NM elk deaths, and I’d be happy to learn more.
Below are your comments and my responses.
1) (Anatoxin-A, the “real killer” referred to, was not found in any elk tissues or water samples. No Anabaena flos aquae was identified in any elk tissues. No tell-tale algae was found around the mouths of any elk.)
Please provide references for this; I’d be happy to look at them.
2) (Most, if not all, of the bodies were in fact intact when discovered on August 27th.)
You may be correct about this; I was going by information in the Santa Fe New Mexican newpaper; if you have other, more accurate information please provide references, I’d be happy to look at them.
3) (The Anabaena flos aquae identified was found in a sample of water taken from a developed water tank, not a pond.)
That is correct, and what the story says. It states explicitly that the source was not a pond but instead a water tank.
4) (Reports of human deaths from anatoxin-A are nonexistent, not rare.)
Please provide references for this; I’d be happy to look at them. I’m surprised you can definitively state that no human has ever died from anatoxin-A. In fact according to a 2003 newspaper report, a Dane County coroner determined that Wisconsin teenager Dane Rogers died from exposure to anatoxin-A (http://www.whoi.edu/science/B/redtide/notedevents/bluegreen/bluegreen_9-5-03.html). This case is also cited in a NOAA report: http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/Centers/HumanHealth/docs/michigan_workshop/xagoraraki_hab_workshop.pdf.