FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Visitors to the University of Alaska Fairbanks will have to scratch musk oxen, caribou and reindeer tours from their lists.
The university's Large Animal Research Station has suspended all tours for the first time since opening in 1983. The action is blamed on the threat of accidental exposure to foot-and-mouth disease.
''This will be in place until the problem subsides in Europe,'' station supervisor Bill Hauer said.
The research station draws upwards of 6,000 visitors each summer who pay $5 apiece for the tour.
''It hurts us economically. It hurts our outreach effort,'' Hauer said, adding that the tours are a good way to inform the public about the role the university plays in wildlife research.
''But there is a major concern that this disease be kept out of North America.''
In memos issued Thursday, UAF attending veterinarian John Blake told the staff the university ''wants to do all we can to avoid accidental exposure.''
Foot-and-mouth is a highly contagious viral disease that puts all animals with cloven hoofs at risk. Humans aren't threatened. But they can transmit the virus on their clothing, shoes and even through throat and nasal passages.
''The possible impact to our research program is substantial,'' Blake wrote. ''Any positive diagnosis in our UAF animals (or animals close to UAF) will result in the destruction of all our cloven-hoofed animals and possibly all our rodents.''
He asked that visitors ''of any sort'' not be allowed into or near animal areas at the Palmer or Fairbanks Agricultural Experiment Farms, the Biological Reserve or the Large Animal Research Station and that access be limited to essential personnel.
Of particular concern are visitors who have traveled outside North America in the previous five days.
The disease is prevalent in England and Ireland, and cases were reported recently in the Netherlands. No cases have been discovered so far in the United States.
Since February, 2 million animals in Europe have been slaughtered because of the disease.
''It's just scary,'' said Bert Gore, veterinarian for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. ''If we don't avoid this, we're out of business. The federal government will shoot and burn animals.''
Gore has advised all Alaska facilities with cloven-hoofed animals, including the Alaska Zoo, the university and private farms, to take precautions.
''This is the greatest potential for introduction of this disease in the U.S. since the mid-'60s,'' he said. ''The best way to keep the animals from being exposed is to close the doors.''
Gore also was sending letters to hunting guides across the state, asking that they take extra care with hunters coming from Europe because foot-and-mouth can affect Dall sheep, mountain goats, caribou, moose, reindeer and deer.
On the Net:
www.uaf.edu/iacuc/ is the UAF Institutional Animal Care Web site.
www.aphis.usda.gov/oa/fmd/index.html is the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site.
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