As the Department of Fish and Wildlife receives more reports of elk with painful limping near Mount St. Helens, the agency is asking for help from researchers as far away as England to figure out what is causing the condition.
So far, there’s no clear solution to the problem, and it may be impossible to eradicate, WDFW veterinarian Kristin Mansfield told the Fish and Wildlife Commission last week.
Hoof rot has been reported in Southwest Washington since the mid-1990s, and WDFW started researching it in 2008. But the commission, which sets policy for WDFW, had not received a briefing on the subject until this month.
“This is very serious disease,” Mansfield said. “This is by far the most troubling and disturbing disease I have worked with in my 20 years as a veterinarian.”
Nate Pamplin, WDFW assistant director for wildlife, said hoof rot is “causing great concerns with the public and the hunting community in Southwest Washington.”
Reports of hoof rot here started a decade ago, first from the lowlands close to Interstate 5. In recent years, it’s spread to the high country. Mansfield said that during biologists’ helicopter surveys of elk the past two years, “Many groups of elk they saw up in the Mount St. Helens hills were limping.”
Affected elk have overgrown or missing hooves.
Brady Wojtowicz, who lives on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, told the commission that out a herd of 17 elk there, seven have hoof rot. “Some are so bad they can’t set their hooves down,” he said.
“It’s a horrible disease,” Mansfield said. “As a veterinarian, it is horrible to see the suffering of these animals.”
Mansfield said the condition affects all ages of elk and both sexes. Though some types of hoof rot affect domesticated animals, livestock living in the same areas as elk with hoof rot don’t have the problem, she said. No cases of hoof rot have been reported in Oregon.
Hoof rot could be caused by infection or a deficiency of copper or selenium, Mansfield said. However, elk are OK in other regions of the state where soils are low in these elements, she said.
No infection has been detected above the hooves in afflicted elk. “I’m comfortable in saying the meat is safe to eat,” Mansfield said.