First elk and now pronghorn antelope. The toxic Japanese yew is taking a toll on wildlife.
If the start of 2017 is any indication of what's in store for wildlife, we can only hope they steer clear of toxic plants as the year progresses. The first week of January saw the death of eight elk in the Boise foothills of Idaho, all as a result of feeding on Japanese yew shrubs. Now according to a press release by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, fifty pronghorn antelope met the same demise on January 17 in the town of Payette.
The fifty animals were located in a small scattered group by conservation officers after a report was filed with Fish and Game staff. With cause of death not immediately known, four carcasses were transported to a facility for testing.
Dr. Mark Drew, a Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian, confirmed the cause of death on January 18:
"All four animals were in good body condition, but with congested lungs and kidneys," Drew noted. "All had Japanese yew twigs and needles in their esophagus and rumen; cause of death was yew toxicity."
Japanese yew contains toxins called taxine A and B, which can be fatal if ingested by dogs, cats, horses, elk, moose, and humans. The primary symptoms are tremors, difficulty breathing and vomiting as well as seizures in dogs. Ingesting the plant can cause sudden death due to heart failure. Any person or animal that has eaten any part of the plant needs immediate medical treatment. Strangely, the plant isn't toxic to white-tailed deer, which relish the taste of the foliage.
Due to this year's harsh winter weather, more wildlife are moving into urban areas, increasing their likelihood of coming into contact with this toxic plant. Homeowners are being urged by the Department of Fish and Game to remove Japanese yew from their garden or wrap in burlap to prevent access.