New Grand Canyon Forensic Lab to Honor Park’s Biologist

In 2007, Eric York, a biologist for the Grand Canyon National Park carried the carcass of a mountain lion from his truck and laid it on a tarp on the floor of his garage. He found the big cat lying motionless near the Grand Canyon South Rim. He was anxious to find out what had happened to the cat. Since the park lacked a forensic lab, York did his postmortem in his own garage. Several days later, York was found dead, a modern age victim of plague; a disease that turned Europe into a vast mortuary during the Middle Ages.  York was only 37.

Through funding, officials plan to open a new lab at the Grand Canyon Park this summer. The lab will be utilized for the kind of work York did. York’s death prompted park officials to build a facility, which might carry Eric York’s name as a memorial.

Getting out at dawn to set and check the lion traps was something Eric York did with passion. As a biologist, York was obsessed with big cats. When York became ill, the park’s clinic staff diagnosed him with a flu-like illness. A few days later, a roommate found him lying motionless on the couch.

According to Martha Hahn, chief of science and resource management for the Grand Canyon Park, officials now believe that York contracted the disease as he carried the animal back to his truck. Epidemic experts can only speculate about what happened next. When York cut into the carcass, he must have released bacteria and breathed in. According to a National Park Service epidemiologist, Pneumonic plague is a fatal disease, even with treatment.

Recently, a Celebrate Wildlife Day at the Grand Canyon was held in York’s honor. The celebration included public presentations of live animals.

The Grand Canyon National Park draws in 5 million visitors each year. Grand Canyon vacations can consist of self-paced activities to fast-paced Grand Canyon tours. This gorgeous natural treasure trove just might deserve a second vacation.

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