April 13, 2023
By Dr. Dave Samuel
Elk Hoof Disease Deadly And Spreading
It seems that a lot of wildlife news involves diseases. Some are new, but some have been around for a while and are just now appearing in alarming numbers.
That is the case with what we now call “elk hoof disease.” The more scientific name is Treponeme associated hoof disease (TAHD). The culprit is Treponeme bacteria, and it affects both Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk in the Northwest. It’s deadly and ugly.
Elk hoof disease was first noticed in southwestern Washington elk herds in the late 1990s. Not much happened until a number of limping elk were seen in 2007-2008, and then a scientific study was started. Elk with this disease have deformed or sloughed hooves. The wounds are apparently painful and cause elk to limp. One reference noted that sometimes things get so bad, that the diseased elk are walking on exposed bone.
Apparently TAHD has spread and has been found in 17 counties in Washington, as well as various locations in Oregon, Idaho, and California. How long TAHD has been in some of these areas is not known. If it is only occurring in low numbers, it can go undetected for months, if not years.
How do the elk get the Treponeme bacteria that invades their hooves? Research shows elk can get TAHD by walking in contaminated soil. The research study was rather interesting. Hooves from infected elk were obtained and minced with soil that was placed in stalls indoors. Four healthy elk were placed in those stalls, and two other healthy elk were placed in control stalls with no minced hoof material. Early lesions were seen on the four elk within two months, and by four months moderate lesions were seen.
A survey of hunter harvests showed that bulls with TAHD were more likely to have asymmetrical antlers. In fact, a survey of hunters in southwestern Washington noted that 35 percent of elk were reported to have deformed hooves. When hooves were deformed, 65 percent of bulls that had six points on one side had a deformed antler on the other side. Researchers stated that the TAHD probably impacted a higher percentage of deformed antlers, because the hunters didn’t notice minor hoof deformities on some elk that had antler asymmetry.
Researchers also noted that antlers are important for elk during the rut. They suggested that if the antlers are abnormal, it could impact reproductive success. Obviously watching for lame and limping elk is a high priority in the Northwest, and as further research is done, I’ll report on it here.
No deer were ever seen in the Northwest with elk hoof disease. But deer do get hoof diseases that are somewhat similar to that found in elk. In 2017, I wrote about a hoof disease in Kansas. It was also contagious and spread from one deer to another. It was called “foot rot,” and in one rather small area, 20 percent of the bucks had it. Shane Hesting, the wildlife disease coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, noted that he saw a few cases of this foot rot every year, but for some reason he heard of many more in 2017. He said that cases were reported to him from 11 counties in Kansas. Just as with the elk hoof disease, he noted that there may have been more in previous years, but they just were not reported.
He noted several potential causes. First, deer that survive hemorrhagic disease viruses sometimes have damaged hooves that might lead to infection in the fall. Second, he suggested that a foot rot bacteria (Fusobacterium) could be contracted through open wounds at deer feeders. Any other source of injury to the hoof area could allow these bacteria to invade the hoof. Hesting sent what appeared to be infected hooves to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia, but I could find no subsequent reports on the results of those tests.
Based on the fact that the elk hoof problem and the Kansas deer hoof problem are apparently impacted by different bacteria, plus the fact that no deer with hoof disease were found in the Northwest where the elk problem exists, leads me to believe that we are dealing with separate hoof diseases. Hopefully, the numbers of both diseases will remain relatively low.
Black Bear Hunt In New Jersey
Bear seasons have been a political football game in New Jersey for years. The state wildlife agency has monitored their bear herd and has always supported some hunting because of increasing bear/human conflict. In 2018, Governor Phil Murphy bowed to those opposed to hunting bears and cancelled a scheduled hunt. Of course, bear numbers then increased, as did conflicts with humans in that heavily populated state.
Last year, Murphy supported the hunt, but again there were legal delays. Once the hunt took place, the goal of a 20-percent harvest was not met. Because the kill in the first season was much lower than desired, an additional four days were added to the season. Even with the extra days, only 114 bears were killed, and that was only a seven-percent harvest.
Hunter participation was lower for several reasons. Hunters did not expect to have a hunt because of antihunter legal interference, so they weren’t ready when the season finally happened. It is also more than likely that after a four-year layoff, hunter interest may also have decreased. My guess is that the antihunters will cite this lower harvest by stating that the 3,000 bears in New Jersey is an overestimate, and bear seasons should be halted again. Such arguments will ignore any increase in human/bear conflicts. They always do.
We can expect growing problems implementing hunting in more and more states. The reasons are many but include the fact that some states now require nonhunters to be included on state Game Commissions. Of course, continued increases of the percent of our population living in urban areas, the loss of access to hunting areas, the difficulties in recruiting and retaining hunters, and the growing difficulties in getting our young people into hunting, will lead to problems. Diseases such as CWD also impact the quality of hunting and reduce participation.
If you have questions about topics covered in this column or on any wildlife-management issues or wildlife species, contact Dr. Dave at email@example.com.