State animal health officials, northeast New Mexico ranchers and hunting guides remain watchful of domestic animal herds and wildlife just east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains after an unexpected and so far unexplained kill off of about 100 elk that happened in the area some 10 days ago.

"So far this remains a mystery," reports Dr. Kerry Mower, animal health specialist for the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish. "We have been getting back a number of tests, have walked the area in question and even conducted an aerial survey in an effort to determine the actual cause of death for these elk, but so far nothing has turned up."

Mower said after careful examination he has ruled out any type of human involvement. The animals were not shot and in speaking with property owners and other residents in the area, no indication of mischief or reason to suspect human involvement has surfaced.

All the elk were found dead within a small area on a ranch near Las Vegas, New Mexico, Sept. 27. The following day plant samples were collected from a wide area of the region and toxicologists have ruled out plant poisoning.

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The animals were discovered in a remote region by a hunting guide employed by the owners of the property, which is located in the heart of elk and deer hunting country. It is a popular area where gun and archery hunting is common on the property and on surrounding ranches every year between September and January.

Mower said intense weather this time of year is common in this area of the state and while there were no clear signs of adverse weather related to the incident, investigators did look at the possibility.

New Mexico ranks as the leading U.S. state for the most human deaths by lightning strikes with 1.88 deaths per every million people. Officials checking with agencies that keep tab on the environmental and weather information for the area indicated no lighting strikes observed in the immediate area in recent weeks. Other weather related concerns include flash flood drowning, but this was also ruled out.

"We did a fly over the area in search of other sick or dead animals of any kind and this did not turn up anything either. We also looked for any chance of exposure to toxic chemicals. There are no industrialized operations or even large farms near the area so we eliminated the chance of fertilizer, pesticide or heavy metal contamination. This area is fairly remote," Mower added.