Mapleton, Utah (ABC4) — 19 elk were found dead throughout Mapleton, and the Yew plant may be to blame.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources was first contacted Jan. 21, 2023, when a local officer found a dead elk with no signs of trauma or gun wounds. After the first elk, they discovered more and more, until they reached a total of 19 elk on Jan. 27, 2023.

The DWR took three of the elk to a veterinary diagnostic lab in Spanish fork, and the initial lab reports showed that all three elk had the yew plant in their stomachs.

The DWR said this may be because elk have been coming down a lot further this year than in previous years.

“A lot of our elk are coming down right now[…] because of the deep snow,” Scott Root with the DWR said,” when you’re elk and you get down this low to get out of the snow, you might feed on different plants that people have planted.”

The Yew plant is a non-native to Utah, however, the Japanese and European Yews are often planted throughout yards in the state. The shrub-like plant is often used in landscaping, but is extremely toxic to animals and humans.

“It’s a bad little plant that people have been planting in their yards for years because it’s pretty, it’s got a really interesting yellow flower,” Root said, “but what they don’t realize is the sap from that plant if it gets rubbed in your eyes can blind you, and give you a terrible rash.”

According to the Horticulturist at Millcreek Gardens, almost every part of the Yew plant is poisonous, besides the red fleshy part. The yew plant contains cytotoxins which are poisonous to humans and animals alike.

The DWR said that, although this was a traumatic event, because it happened, we can plan better for the future.

“I’d like to think there’s a silver lining to this, we can now do the research and we’re all starting to learn about this plant and other plants that can be toxic.” Root said, “And if we’re going to plan some landscaping, we can plan some more wildlife-friendly landscaping.”

To check if the plants in your yard are a possible threat to wildlife near you, use this poisonous plant guide released by the University of Utah.