Elk displaying symptoms of hoof disease are becoming more common in southwest Washington, and wildlife managers are seeking information from the public in order to understand why.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) held a public meeting on Monday night in Longview to present known information about the condition. Approximately 60 people were in attendance.
WDFW received sporadic reports about elk with lameness and/or overgrown/missing hooves beginning over a decade ago, but the number of reports has increased dramatically in recent years. The condition has been observed in young and old animals and in both sexes.
Many different hoof diseases affect domestic livestock and wildlife, with different causes and different modes of transmission. The hoof disease the elk are displaying does not appear to be an exact match with any known disease, said WDFW veterinarian Kristin Mansfield, nor does it appear to affect domestic livestock.
WDFW conducted a pilot study in 2009, said Sandra Jonker, WDFW Region Five Wildlife Program Manager. They harvested five animals with symptoms in areas with reported cases of disease and three healthy animals from areas without reported cases of disease. Preliminary results of the study showed deformed, overgrown claws, abscesses, lesions, laminitis, and deficiencies in copper and selenium in the diseased animals.
In 2010, the department conducted a hunter survey to collect observations about the locations and conditions of affected animals.
WDFW is working with Washington State University researchers to narrow down the information needed to understand the primary cause of the disease. “Even if we do find out the cause, it will be challenging to address in a wild herd,” said Jonker, There may be few, if any treatment options, she cautioned.
Local residents attended the meeting. “Does it affect the meat,” asked Cathlamet resident Chuck Nadgewick. If the animal looks sick, don’t eat it, responded Jonker, Puget Island resident John Vik displayed a photo of a harvested elk where infection had spread through the body from the hooves.
Cathlamet resident Dan Cothren noted that the number of tags sold to hunters has not decreased as the number of sick animals has increased. Jonker explained that the last management plan completed several years ago identified the elk population as over carrying capacity. The number of tags sold reflects the department’s intention to reduce herd sizes.
WDFW created a website to report the location and condition of affected animals (http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_rot/reporting/index.html). Reports about the location of healthy animals are also needed. Those without internet access can call WDFW’s regional office at (360) 696-6211.