New Mexico wildlife officials are left scratching their heads after a herd of elk was found dead earlier this week near Mora, N.M.
According to KRQE-TV, over 100 elk were found dead at the 75,000-acre Buena Vista Ranch about 20 miles north of Las Vegas, N.M., with no external signs of injury.
Check out the video from KRQE-TV in Albuquerque.
Officials from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish said the elk weren't shot, so poachers are off the hook this time.
So what caused the massive die-off? According to the Albuquerque Journal, officials say it could range from poison to blue tongue disease, but the chief suspect right now is epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD).
"What we do know from aerial surveys is that the die-off appears to be confined to a relatively small area, and that the elk were not shot by poachers," said New Mexico Game and Fish disease specialist Kerry Mower in a press release.
Usually found in whitetails, EHD is a viral disease transmitted strictly from insect bites; it cannot be passed directly from one elk to another. Infected animals first lose their appetites about seven days after contracting EHD. The animals become progressively weaker and salivate excessively, and develop a high pulse, respiration rate and fever. Soon after, the animals go into shock and die. The disease is not transmittable to humans.
Tissue and water samples are being collected and tested at the New Mexico Veterinary Diagnostic Services laboratory for traces of the disease.
"With EHD, an elk could get a fever," Game and Fish spokesperson Rachel Shockley told KRQE. "It's usually a pretty fast illness, and up to eight to 36 hours later the animals go into shock, and then they die."
The die-off comes just days ahead of New Mexico's archery elk season. No other mass die-offs have been discovered, but officials are urging hunters to report any elk behaving strangely.