Officials say early water tests indicated a normal presence of bacteria in samples collected from the area but not at levels considered toxic. Mower said more comprehensive tests were needed before any conclusions could be made final. He said only testing by a specialized laboratory could have found the trace amounts in the samples.

"Toxicology examinations were performed at an out of state lab and these types of tests require time. But it appears we have found the definitive cause," Mower explained.

While investigators mull over the results, they will be looking at why the neurotoxin was discovered in the fiberglass tanks and not the earthen tanks, a possible clue to the elk deaths. But Mower warns the type of tanks may not have had anything to do with the development of the algae blooms and neurotoxins.

Blue - green alga is a microscopic cyanobacteria that can grow in warm, stagnant water in ponds, lakes and water tanks. Not all types of algae produce toxins that are harmful to humans and animals. But it is not the first time neurotoxins have been blamed for large animal kill offs. Anatoxin-a was at fault in the early 1960s when a large herd of cattle in Canada died. Toxicologists say it doesn't take a great deal of toxin to be deadly to thirsty animals.

Mower says temperatures leading up to the elk kill in New Mexico were warm, but not excessively hot. But with enough sunshine and the right conditions, blue-green algae can form, and toxins are often the result.

The New Mexico Department of Health warns that toxins from algae blooms can also be toxic to humans. While no cases of human death from algae toxins have been reported in New Mexico, health officials say people have fallen sick from swimming or wading through algae blooms.

Contact with blooms can cause rashes or skin irritations and swallowing infected water can cause diarrhea, vomiting and neurotoxic symptoms, possibly leading to serious illness or death.

With hunting season underway in New Mexico, wildlife officials say so far no other reports of unexplained animal deaths have been reported. But game and fish officials warn hunters not to harvest animals that exhibit unusual behavior or appear sick, and when discovering a sick or dead animal they should report the incident to the department’s toll-free information line, 888-248-6866.



Also of interest on Southwest Farm Press:

Elk kill off remains a mystery

NRCS in Texas announces incentive payments to improve wildlife habitat

Football, fall harvest and deer feeding are Texas fall tradition