The necropsy records of 65 elk ranging from 1 day to 13 1/2 years of age were reviewed to determine the primary cause of death of each animal. The animal carcasses were submitted from 22 separate Pennsylvania elk farms over an approximately 8-year period. The most common causes of mortality in animals in which the cause of death was determined were gastrointestinal parasitism (21 cases), pneumonia (7 cases), enterocolitis (5 cases), malnutrition (5 cases), and rumenitis/acidosis (5 cases). The cause of death was undetermined in 4 of the 65 elk. Nematode organisms (20 cases) were the primary parasites identified in cases of mortality owing to gastrointestinal parasitism. Arcanobacterium pyogenes (3 cases), Escherichia coli (3 cases), and Streptococcus sp. (2 cases) were the most commonly isolated bacteria from the lung in the cases of pneumonia. Fungal organisms, consistent with Aspergillus sp. were present histologically within the pulmonary lesions in 5 cases. Bacterial agents associated with enterocolitis included Clostridium perfringens (2 cases), E. coli (1 case), Salmonella Newport (1 case) and Salmonella Thompson (1 case). The majority (56.3%) of the death loss in elk of known ages occurred in animals 1 year of age or less, with 71.4% of the gastrointestinal parasitism, 60.0% of the malnutrition, 60.0% of the enterocolitis, and 57.1% of the pneumonia cases occurring in animals within this age range. In conclusion, gastrointestinal parasitism, pneumonia, malnutrition, enterocolitis and rumenitis acidosis were considered the most common causes of death in captive elk in this study.
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