Wolf Tapeworm Could Prove To Be The Biggest Threat Wolves Pose!
Editorial News/Press Release
September 20, 2011
A Tiny Parasite Now Poses A New Health Threat For Those Who Spend Time In The Northern Rockies
It was a beautiful early September evening in the rugged mountains of Idaho, and 23-year-old Tina Lind, of Grangeville, was enjoying her very first season hunting with a bow. She and her boyfriend, Ryan, had spotted a good five-point bull out in a clear cut - and chasing cows. They decided to go after him.
"After getting set up, we let out a bugle and the bull screamed back at us. I could hear him racking his horns around in the brush, but it didn't sound like he was coming any closer. We moved in on him, got set up again, and let out another bugle. The bull came running right in. At that point, my adrenalin was really pumping. The animal stopped perfectly broadside at thirty yards...I drew back...buried my sight pin behind his shoulder...and squeezed the trigger of the release. I heard a solid hit, and the bull ran for about fifty yards before falling over. I was ecstatic!" exclaims Lind.
Taking a nice bull with a bow, during her very first archery elk hunt, was surely a memory that Tina Lind will most likely remember for the rest of her live. She and Ryan gave the elk thirty minutes before walking over to where they had heard it go down.
"As we walked up to the bull, my eyes welled up with tears - what a beautiful animal," Tina remembers thinking to herself.
After admiring the five-point bull and taking a few photos for a few minutes, the pair rolled up their sleeves and got right down to the work at hand...field dressing and quartering the bull to insure a great winter meat supply. Ryan took care of the field dressing, and after he had reached in, cut the windpipe with an extremely sharp hunting knife, he pulled out the lungs to show Tina where her four-bladed broadhead had passed through, to produce such a clean and quick harvest of the 500-pound elk. They immediately noticed unusual looking liquid filled pockets that had formed on the lungs. Neither of them had ever seen anything like them before. The first thought that went through their minds was...were they tumors? Was it cancer?
(Photo Above - First time Idaho bowhunter Tina Lind with her 5-point bull. Following Two Photos - The lungs from her bull are infected with hydatid cysts - from ingesting the eggs of the Echinoccocus granulosus tapeworm...which are now widely spread by wolves.)
The pair did the right thing. They put the lungs into a plastic bag, and took them to a local Idaho Department of Fish and Game office. There, a biologist said he believed them to be hydatid cysts, caused by the elk ingesting grasses and other forage that had held the microscopic eggs of the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm - a parasite that is now being widely spread by an excessive number of wolves now roaming the Northern Rockies. And those wolves are now spreading billions of those eggs across the landscape of this region every year, creating a health hazard for most other wildlife, livestock, pets and even humans.
"Ryan and I had only heard of this once or twice before, but thought it was just a virus that effected only the wolves, not ungulates or even humans. We had no idea how hazardous to one's health this disease could be. Needless to say, we now have several packs of latex gloves in our packs to protect ourselves while field dressing, and will check over all the organs every time we harvest an animal. I am still super excited over the bull I harvested, however, every time I go to cook the meat, I will be reminded of the vicious disease that these 'introduced' wolves are spreading throughout our state," remarks successful bow hunter Tina Lind.
The photos of the lungs have been circulated on a number of Facebook pages and on several internet websites. A number of resulting comments have criticized whoever handled these lungs with their bare hands. But, is there really any danger in handling lungs or other internal organs of game that are covered with such cysts? LOBO WATCH went to one of the world's most respected authorities on the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm and on cystic hydatid disease for some answers. That individual is Dr. Valerius Geist, PhD., Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science, University of Calgary.
"The cysts contain thousands of tiny tapeworm heads floating in a liquid supporting them. I have lived for some 50 years with the understanding that in elk, deer, moose, caribou, etc., neither the cyst's liquid, nor the tapeworm heads are anything to worry about. They cannot infect you, even if you swallow them - and who would? To a human patient, who carries these cysts, it's of course a very different matter. Should the cyst burst (internally), then the liquid will generate a severe allergic reaction. Anaphylactic shock may be the consequence. And that can kill the patient on the spot," advises Dr. Geist.
As for eating the meat of any game harvested that may have hydatid cysts on the lungs, liver or other organs, he points out, "Native people have been eating hydatid infected moose, caribou and deer forever. The meat is safe."
He goes on to share that the only way for humans to get the disease is to ingest the eggs shed by the adult tapeworms in the feces of wolves, coyotes or dogs. So, how do the eggs from the tapeworm, deposited in most piles of wolf scat now found throughout the Northern Rockies, become transmitted from that pile of wolf dung to a human's mouth?
Ingested by wild ungulates (elk, moose, deer, etc.), whether the game has grazed on egg covered grasses or leafy forage, or perhaps took in the eggs while watering, the eggs enter the blood system and are carried to various internal organs, where they can result in the hydatid cysts, such as those found on the lungs of Tina Lind's bull elk. Back in 2008, more than 60-
percent of all wolves tested in Idaho and Montana were found to be infested with thousands of the E. granulosus tapeworms, and every time each of those wolves left a pile of scat, they also deposited thousands, maybe tens of thousands of the tapeworm eggs.
Our pets pose the biggest threat of transmission to humans, due to our love for the animals. If you are like many who hike, camp and hunt in the beautiful Northern Rockies outdoors, you very likely take your dog or dogs along. Every time your dog encounters a pile of wolf scat, it is likely to smell it, breathing in those microscopic eggs, which could prove dangerous to the dog. Unfortunately, dogs very often have a tendency to roll in the solid excrement left by other canines, including wolves - and the tapeworm eggs that become imbedded in the hair or fur of their coats could become dangerous to their human companions. Just running through tall grasses in wolf country could result in the same. And every time you love on your "best friend", you could just as easily get the eggs of the parasite on your hands. In turn, those eggs could just as easily be transmitted to any hand held food you eat, such as an apple, a piece of cheese, a potato chip, or a sandwich. If you live in wolf country, you may even want to rethink kissing on your pets.
(Above Photo - The best friend LOBO WATCH founder Toby Bridges has ever had...his black lab Bob. This photo was taken on a trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The dog goes just about everywhere with him, and even though there is now the danger of E. granulosus tapeworm eggs throughout western Montana, Toby loves this dog enough to show his affection, and freely wrestles and plays with Bob...as dangerous as it has now become.)
Keep in mind, the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm itself is relatively microscopic, measuring just 3mm in length. To put that into perspective, the typical "heavy duty" plastic lawn and leaf bags are only 3mm in thickness. The thousands of eggs produced by these tapeworms are then super microscopic, and in no way can they be seen by the human eye. The eggs are so small and light that even the slightest breeze will spread them across the landscape. Likewise, we now know that these eggs can be spread even wider by running streams. Making matters worse, they are not all that affected by weather, and can last for months, even in extreme cold.
This threat has escalated greatly over the past several years. The wolves are no longer just in the back country. Many elk and deer have moved right down into the city limits of major cities in Montana and Idaho, seeking protection from wolves by moving closer to human settlements, and the wolves have followed. LOBO WATCH has photographed 6-inch long wolf tracks right at the edge of Missoula's city limits - and has also found (and photographed) both a wolf- killed deer and wolf scat inside of city limits. The wolves are now among us, bringing the threat of hydatid disease to town.
Last week, I read of a Gallatin Gateway, MT (just south of Bozeman) school teacher who was making plans to take her class down to Yellowstone National Park, and have them climb down into a wolf den to see how wolves live. Now, ask yourself, "How smart is that?"
Wolves also roll in the feces of other wolves...daily covering 30 or more miles of the same country that is now literally covered with the eggs of E. granulosus tapeworms...which they carry right back to their dens. Now, we have a teacher who is so out of touch with the reality of wolves, and the diseases they carry and spread, that she will readily expose her students to the dangers of hydatid disease.
But, whose fault is it that even our educators remain ignorant of such health threats? The State of Montana has certainly done an extremely poor job of getting out a warning of any kind. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Region 2 wolf specialist Liz Bradley has even been quoted (Bitterroot Star, June 2, 2010) stating, "You would have to actually eat the wolf feces, or the coyote or fox or dog feces to get the disease." Far more experienced and knowledgeable scientists, such as Dr. Valerius Geist, former USFWS biologist Jim Beers, and former USFWS researcher George Dovel disagree. And at least one woman in Idaho, who had to have a part of her liver removed due to hydatid cysts would very likely also disagree.
More recently, MT FWP seems to have had a dramatic change of opinion when it comes to the threat of this parasite. In compiling the 2011 regulations for the wolf season, which is now underway in several back country wilderness areas, and statewide for archery hunters, one change has truly puzzled thousands of hunters, as well as many who don't hunt but still want wolf numbers controlled. While bears and mt. lions harvested by hunters must be presented to Fish, Wildlife and Parks to be checked and tagged, this year wolves are exempt from that requirement. FWP has decided that anyone with a wolf tag can simply call in a report of a wolf kill, or walk into any FWP regional office and claim to have killed a wolf, and that kill would be deducted from the established 220 quota. And such a claim, by phone or in person, does not have to be substantiated by any proof of a kill whatsoever.
(Photo Above Left - This wolf scat was photographed right in the city limits of Missoula, MT...within a quarter-mile of a residential neighborhood. The odds are in favor of it being laden with thousands of dangerous tapeworm eggs, which can cause health (and life) threatening hydatid cysts in elkd, deer, moose, cattle, pets...and humans.)
(Photo At Right - All forms of outdoor recreation in the Northern Rockies is now in dire jeopardy, due to the total contamination of the region by a parasite that threatens the health of nearly all mammals - wild, domestic or human.)
This has many sportsmen and wildlife lovers furious. The goal of the wolf season is to bring wolf numbers down low enough to allow elk, moose and deer populations to recover from excessive wolf depredation. Those who truly spend a great deal of time outdoors, and who have seen the damage done, have already accused FWP of being a major part of the problem, hiding real wolf numbers in the state and covering up the damage already done to wildlife resources. Likewise, most also now realize that the 220 quota is far from being enough to make a difference - and even if it is met, come this time next year there will be even more wolves in this state than we have right now. And along with that increase will be still fewer big game animals, and greater livestock losses - along with a greater threat of this wolf carried parasite.
Montana sportsmen suspect that an effort will be made by many pro-wolf supporters to purchase a required conservation license and a wolf permit, then call in a false kill report. And this would reduce an already inadequate harvest even more. One Missoula County hunter was so angered, he spent most of a day on the phone calling the Region 2 offices, to demand that any "wolf less" kill claim be investigated by a game warden, requiring the hunter to take that warden to the site of the kill. He also wanted to know why wolves did not have to be checked the same at lions and bears. He was finally told that it was due to the danger of Echinococcus granulosus eggs in the fur of the wolf. And this is from the same office whose "regional wolf specialist" claimed that the only way for humans to be threatened would be to eat wolf scat.
Now we have a Montana teacher who will expose her students to that same danger by having them crawl down into a wolf den.
Introduced Canadian wolves have now been with us for 16 years, and even if you are one of those naive types who accept claims of only 1,700 wolves here now, that is 28 times more wolves than were released in 1995 and 1996. Anyone willing to do the math will realize that the real number of wolves in the Northern Rockies is now closer to 4,000 - which is 65 times as many wolves originally released. One thing is for certain, the tapeworm eggs they are spreading far and wide will continue to infect our wild ungulate herds, and more and more those hunters who are successful will find internal organs covered with hydatid cysts.
Dr. Val Geist reminds those hunters who do discover organs with cysts, "After discovering infected lungs or livers in elk or deer you kill, please make a bond fire and throw the lungs and liver on top and burn them. Do not leave infected offal in the countryside as dogs, coyotes, and wolves will eat such and become infected."
If they are not burnt, the cycle could begin again. Looks like there will be a lot of funeral fires burning in the valleys and on the ridges this fall. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH