WILDLIFE State wildlife biologists will kill elk calves in two counties, hoping tissue samples can help determine the cause of hoof disease in elk in southwest Washington.
Starting this month, up to five young elk will be taken from industrial forestland in Pacific County for a comparative study of elk from the Cowlitz River Basin, where the disease has spread rapidly among elk since 2008.
The hoof disease results in broken, deformed hooves and lameness that can hinder an elk’s ability to survive. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has been working with specialists here and abroad to better understand what is causing the disease.
Informal surveys conducted by the department staff during the winter of 2008-2009 showed up to 80 percent of observed herds in the area had affected elk. Within affected groups of elk, 30-90 percent of the animals were lame or had deformed hooves. Observations showed both sexes and all age classes, including calves, appeared to be affected.
At the same time, interviews with several large-animal veterinarians who practice in the area did not show the existence of a similar condition in domestic livestock.
“The scientific literature suggests as many as 40 possible causes of hoof disease in domestic animals, ranging from bacterial infection to nutritional deficiencies,” Dr. Kristin Mansfield, agency veterinarian, said in a prepared statement. “We have to understand the cause of this problem in elk before we can have any hope of managing it.”
Mansfield said the condition found in southwest Washington elk seems to be distinct from hoof diseases found in livestock and other wild animals. To narrow the search for the cause, calves will be used because they are less likely to have other health problems that might affect the findings, she said.
In early March, biologists will collect seven-10 elk from the Cowlitz River Basin for the study, as well as a second control group of up to five elk from western Yakima County.
The samples will be sent to Washington State University, Colorado State University, the University of Wyoming and possibly universities in England and Australia for analysis.
• More information about hoof rot in elk is available online at wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_rot.
• The department asks hunters and others who see an elk with deformed hooves to report their observations online at wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_rot/reporting.