PULLMAN, Wash.—Four elk with elk hoof disease were detected in recent months in northwest Washington in areas where the disease had previously not been detected.
Four hunter harvested elk were diagnosed with elk hoof disease, known scientifically as Treponeme-Associated Hoof Disease or TAHD, in regions that point to an expansion of the disease up the Olympic Peninsula and nearing Olympic National Park. The disease is now present on the southeast, south, west, and southwest borders of the park.
To date there have been four confirmed cases in that region. All cases were obtained from legally harvested elk.
The first diseased elk in the ONP area, a bull, was harvested near Grisdale, Wash., on Sept. 24, 2018. Additional cases included an adult cow elk taken closest to the park in the Quinault Valley of Grays Harbor County on Nov. 22, near the southwest park boundary. An adult bull was harvested on Dec. 10, in the Hamma Hamma drainage of Mason County southeast of the park. The latest case, a cow, was harvested in the Forks area on the western park boundary.
Since 2008, reports of elk with deformed, broken, or missing hooves have increased dramatically in southwest Washington, with sporadic observations in other areas west of the Cascade Range. The disease causes elk to become lame and often debilitated from foot ulcers and long, overgrown hooves that may slough off. The disease has not been diagnosed in other wildlife species and is currently not known to affect humans who use good harvest sanitation practices.
“We believe it is important to inform the public about the disease’s progression and ask for their continued help in reporting suspected cases,” said Margaret Wild, a Washington State University veterinarian and professor in charge of the state’s $3 million elk hoof disease research program.
“Two of these samples (Hamma Hamma and Grisdale) were submissions from Skokomish tribal hunters,” said Kyle Garrison, elk hoof disease coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The Quinault Lake and Forks samples came from state licensed hunters. Moving forward, it will continue to be submissions from hunters like these that are essential for tracking this disease’s progression in Washington.”
“WSU, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the tribes, and the National Park Service all want to let the public know where TAHD advances and particularly as it approaches some of the nation’s valued resources like Olympic National Park,” said Dr. Wild.
“As we continue to gear up our research program, we feel it is essential that we share new information, highlight new, as well as, ongoing collaborations, and continue to raise awareness by non‑hunters as well as hunters who are concerned about TAHD and its effect on elk.”
“Additionally, the design for a 4‑acre captive elk research facility located on the Pullman campus to study the disease has been finalized and will go out to bid shortly,” explained Dr. Wild.
“In the near future, we hope we can begin to get a handle on TAHD and determine what if anything we can do to moderate or stop its progression.”
Patti Happe, Olympic National Park wildlife branch chief, asks visitors who observe limping or dead elk to report them to park staff. Observations of limping elk can also be reported on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.