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Total Yellowstone
Buffalo Killed
Since 1985
(past counts)

Yellowstone Bison Slaughter
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The Yellowstone Bison Brucellosis Myth

The Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) claims it is slaughtering the Yellowstone bison because they carry brucellosis. This claim rings hollow in light of a few facts: There has never been a documented transmission of brucellosis from wild bison to livestock. Even if buffalo were capable of spreading the disease, there are no cattle on these lands from mid-October to mid-June, making brucellosis transmission impossible.

All bison captured and slaughtered this winter have been bulls, which are incapable of transmitting the disease. The ten bull bison slaughtered this week tested positive for brucellosis antibodies, not infection. Because bison are known to build natural resistance to brucellosis, these animals may actually be the strongest, healthiest animals of the herd. The overwhelming majority of bison slaughtered according to these test results don't actually carry the disease.

Most bison that test positive at the capture facility test negative under the more accurate post-slaughter necropsy. The DOL is using a new methodology for detecting antibodies to brucellosis in wild bison called the Fluorescent Polarization Assay (FPA). This testing method involves the use of antigens tagged with a fluorescent material which detect IgG (immunoglobulin G) type antibodies to brucellosis and bind with them. Binding between the antibody and the tagged antigen results in an increase in polarization which is detected by the analyzer and reported as a quantitative result. This result is interpreted as positive or negative based on certain cut-off values. Studies have established that the specificity and sensitivity of this test were found to be much higher when compared to Particle Concentration Fluorescence Immunoassay and the CARD test (Nielsen et al 1998).

However, in spite of the advanced technology of this testing method it is only capable of detecting IgG (long term immunity) antibodies, not the presence of brucella organisms. The major advantage of FPA over the Card test is that it will detect a quantitative level of antibodies, which may or may not directly correlate to the presence of an infection, whereas the Card test simply detects the qualitative presence or absence of antibodies. Although the DOL has finally begun using advanced technology to detect brucellosis antibodies in wild bison, they are still unable to correlate their test results to prove actual infection.

Culture of tissues from slaughtered bison are no longer being done to confirm their testing results. In spite of these facts, DOL continues to use the results of both the FPA and the Card test to send low risk bison (i.e. bulls) to slaughter.

Even if only the Card test is positive and the more specific FPA is negative, a buffalo will be sent to slaughter. Why is DOL spending thousands of tax payer's dollars on new technology if it will not be properly utilized and potentially save uninfected bison from needless slaughter?

Nielsen, K., Gall, D., Lin, M., Massangill, C., Samartino, L., Perez, B., Coats, M., Hennager, S., Dajer, A., Nicoletti, P., Thomas, F. 1998. Diagnosis of bovine brucellosis using a homogeneous fluorescence polarization assay. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology. 66(1998) 321-329.

Perkin/Elmer Life Sciences, web site. Accessed 01/10/02.
Lumigen web site. Accessed 01/10/02. USAHA web site information from 1997.

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