While early water tests indicate a normal presence of bacteria in samples collected from the area, bacteria levels were not considered a major issue, and Mower says the state is still awaiting toxicology reports from out of state on the possibility of disease involvement.

"There has been some talk of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, and it is too early to rule that out completely," he added, but if animal disease or sickness was related to the incident, he is surprised that other sick, dying or dead animals have not been found at this point.

"Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is not uncommon and we certainly are anxious to get final results back on tests for this and other types of pathogen involvement, but at the moment about all we can say is these deaths are a bit of a mystery. But we continue to follow every trail and hope we may soon discover the cause and nature of the incident," Mower said.

While EHD poses no serious concern to human health, it can be transferred from cervidae to cattle herds and has caused mass deaths of animals in the past, most notably across the Midwest. But officials say ranchers and wildlife officials are well aware of the dangers of the disease and are being watchful and have seen no indications of an occurrence or outbreak of the disease in the region. The tell-tale signs of the disease, such as lesions, erosions or hemorrhages around the lips and in the mouth, did not appear to be prominent in animals discovered dead at the site.

Among the cervidae, EHD is most severe in white-tailed deer. In this species, the morbidity and mortality rates may be as high as 90 percent. Severity of the disease varies from year to year. It also varies with the geographic location. In the U.S. Southeast, most cases are mild and mortality rates are low. In the Midwest and Northeast, EHD typically recurs each year, but can vary from a few scattered cases to severe epizootics with high mortality rates.

"Without the results of the tests that have not yet come back, I suspect we are most probably talking about an incident that involves some type of environmental condition of unknown type or variety," Mower said.

Meanwhile, he says hunters have been ringing the phones for updates and landowners across the region remain on the watch, but he believes there is no food or human safety issues related to the incident and that the hunting season is getting underway as usual. He says any meat harvested from the hunt should be free of any problems that would harm humans.


Also of interest:

New Mexico elk deaths raise warning

Definitive deer study targets rural property owners

Concerns over Chronic Wasting Disease in cervids prompts rule change