Hunting

This disease leaves elk with broken, deformed hooves. Now it’s in Idaho.

4,000 elk, 15 tons of hay per day in one cool, time-lapse video

Idaho Fish and Game is feeding 4,000 elk in the fire-ravaged Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area in eastern Idaho. Glenn Oakley produced this time-lapse video of the effort for Fish and Game.
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Idaho Fish and Game is feeding 4,000 elk in the fire-ravaged Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area in eastern Idaho. Glenn Oakley produced this time-lapse video of the effort for Fish and Game.

A disease that afflicts elk and leaves the animal’s hooves broken and deformed has been identified in Idaho for the first time, officials announced on Saturday.

In a news release, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said it had confirmed a case of treponema associated hoof disease in an animal killed by a hunter near White Bird last year.

It’s a bacterial infection that was first identified in neighboring Washington in 2000 and later in Northwest Oregon.

“TAHD is caused by a spirochete bacterium that causes hoof abnormalities and lameness in elk,” according to the Fish and Game release.

According to Washington wildlife officials, the bacteria causes lesions or ulcers that can cause the hooves to become misshapen, broken or overgrown and lead to limping.

There’s no sign that the bacteria affects meat or organs, and Idaho officials said there is no known risk to humans from consuming parts of an animal with the illness.

Fish and Game is increasing surveillance for the disease and asks that the public report elk that are having trouble walking or have unusual-looking hooves. If you harvest an animal that appears to have the disease, you can bring the lower limbs to a Fish and Game office for testing.

Hoof disease is most prevalent in Southwest Washington, and Fish and Game officials said prior to this incident the disease was not believed to be in Idaho.

“Fish and Game staff has occasionally observed or received information from the public about elk around the state that have abnormal hooves or are lame,” the agency said in the release. “No definitive cause for the lameness or hoof abnormalities in these other cases are known, but they can be caused by injury, arthritis, viral infections and other bacterial and fungal infections.”

A similar treponema bacteria is responsible for hoof diseases in cattle and sheep — bovine digital dermatitis and contagious ovine digital dermatitis. Washington officials said livestock don’t appear to be exhibiting similar hoof problems in areas where the disease is prevalent in elk.

Still, Idaho Fish and Game has alerted the State Department of Agriculture to the issue.

“Fish and Game has been communicating with us out of professional courtesy but also out of an abundance of caution,” said Chanel Tewalt, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture.

Tewalt said the agency has heard no indication of similar issues in Idaho livestock.

It’s still not clear how the illness passes between animals, and no vaccine currently exists to prevent or treat it, Washington officials said.

“Similar diseases in livestock are treated by forcing them to walk through foot baths and cleaning and bandaging their hooves, but that is not a feasible option for free-ranging elk,” according the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

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Nicole Blanchard is the Idaho Statesman’s outdoors and insight reporter. She grew up in Idaho, graduated from Idaho State University and Northwestern University and frequents the trails around Boise as much as she can.

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