Elk Network19 Utah Elk Likely Died from Eating Poisonous Shrub

General | February 3, 2023

Nineteen elk dropped dead in Mapleton, a Utah community about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City along the Wasatch Mountains. The culprit is believed to be a common ornamental but toxic shrub found used in landscaping.

“Honestly, it’s heartbreaking,” John Jackson, Mapleton police chief told ksl.com. “They’re constant in our town; we’re right at the foothills.”

Police officers found the first elk carcass on January 21. And that was followed by a couple more, then five to six more and ended up with 19 animals that seemingly dropped dead without any signs of trauma.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources sent three of the carcasses to a veterinary lab that determined each of them had yew plants in their stomachs. Though somewhat rare, death by yew does have precedent in the West.

According to the 2022 May-June issue of Bugle magazine, 37 elk and more than 50 pronghorn antelope died in the Idaho foothills during the 2016-17 winter after eating it. A heavy snowpack that year buried native forage, drawing them to the highly toxic yew in people ’s yards. Despite an ordinance restricting its planting, 11 more elk died in 2022 from ingesting yew near Hailey, Idaho.

Biologists encourage homeowners in elk country to avoid planting yew on their property.

(Photo credit: Idaho Department of Fish and Game)