State wildlife biologists plan to kill and collect samples from elk calves in several locations to 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 Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been working with specialists here and abroad to gain a better understanding of what is causing the disease in southwestern Washington elk.

“The scientific literature suggests as many as 40 possible causes of hoof disease in domestic animals, ranging from bacterial infection to nutritional deficiencies,” said Dr. Kristin Mansfield, WDFW veterinarian. “We have to understand the cause of this problem in elk before we can have any hope of managing it in our state.”

Mansfield said the condition found in Southwest Washington appears to be distinct from hoof diseases found in livestock and other wild animals. To help narrow the search for the cause, calves will be used in the study because they are less likely to have other health problems that may affect the findings, she said.

In early March, WDFW biologists will collect seven to 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, said Sandra Jonker, WDFW wildlife manager for southwest Washington.

All samples will be submitted to Washington State University, Colorado State University, the University of Wyoming, and possibly universities in England and Australia for analysis. Jonker said WDFW has made arrangements to donate any meat from healthy animals that is suitable for consumption.

WDFW encourages hunters and others who see an elk with deformed hooves to report their observations online at . More information about hoof rot in elk is available on WDFW’s website at

Image courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

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