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By Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel

Five elk recently transferred to Wisconsin from Kentucky as part of a reintroduction effort died in mid-April because of a tick-borne disease, the Department of Natural Resources announced Monday.

The elk died over a period of about one week in a quarantine pen in Jackson County, according to the DNR. The dead elk included one adult cow, which carried an unborn calf, and four yearlings (three females and one male).

Necropsies on the dead animals revealed they died of acute Babesiosis, according to the DNR. The disease is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells and are spread by certain ticks, including the deer tick.

State wildlife officials presume the elk were bitten by ticks after their arrival in Wisconsin. The dead animals were part of a shipment of 26 elk brought to Wisconsin in late March as part of a multiyear agreement with Kentucky wildlife officials. The plan calls for Wisconsin to receive up to 150 elk from Kentucky.

Although Babesiosis has also been isolated in white-tailed deer, it has only led to benign infections in the continent’s most abundant cervid, Ryan said.

The disease also affects humans. Wisconsin, Minnesota and states in the northeastern U.S. have the highest rates of Babesiosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The parasite that causes Babesiosis typically is spread by a tick in the young nymph stage of their life cycle, when they are most apt to be found seeking a blood meal during spring and summer.

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