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Associated Press

CRAIG, Colo. (AP) - An elk ranch remained under quarantine Friday as state officials waited for test results to determine if deer around the ranch have a brain disease fatal to animals, a disease that has been found in some Wyoming wildlife.

The recent detection of chronic wasting disease in two deer inadvertently penned in the Motherwell Ranch is the first time the disease has been found in wild animals west of the Continental Divide.

State agriculture officials want to kill and test the brains of the 100 domesticated elk on the ranch to see if they are infected.

Ranch owner Wes Adams said on Thursday he thinks the diseased deer were infected before they were shut in with his elk and that his ranch isn't the problem.

"I don't want to be made out like I'm pointing a finger, but Colorado is where the problem started, and Colorado has to do more about their problem," said Adams, adding he has complied with all state regulations.

The disease was first observed at a Colorado State University research facility west of Fort Collins in 1960s and has been found in the wild in north-central Colorado and southern Wyoming. But state Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury said no one knows where chronic wasting disease started.

The disease has been found on three elk ranches in western Colorado. Nearly 1,500 captive elk were killed in February and March as a precaution after the disease was found on a northeastern Colorado ranch that shipped elk to other facilities.

Chronic wasting disease causes animals to grow thin as it destroys their brains. It is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It is not known to spread from deer and elk to cattle or people, but scientists say that cannot be ruled out.

The two infected deer were among 300 deer and 30 wild elk penned in on the Motherwell Ranch after Adams fenced 1,800 acres of his 6,000-acre spread to start an elk ranch for hunters. The disease was discovered after hunters killed the wild animals.

State law requires that wildlife caught in any captive-animal facility be killed to prevent the spread of disease.

Three hundred wild deer outside the ranch were killed and tested to determine if chronic wasting disease has spread in the wild. Malmsbury said preliminary tests on 100 deer were negative, but a second, more accurate analysis isn't complete.

Tests on 2,000 wild animals killed by hunters in western Colorado the past several years were all negative for chronic wasting disease, Malmsbury said. The Wildlife Division asks hunters to help monitor herds by turning in the animals' heads for analysis.

There is no test to determine if live elk are infected by chronic wasting disease. Live deer can be tested, but it is difficult and time-consuming, Malmsbury said.

The disease has also been found in Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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