'Hoof rot' destroying wild elk populations in SW Washington - KPTV - FOX 12

'Hoof rot' destroying wild elk populations in SW Washington

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A debilitating disease is decimating Southwest Washington's wild elk populations.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the animals are suffering from digital dermatitis, also known as "hoof rot," caused by a bacteria that grows in moist soils.

Lynn Bush, who lives in Kelso, recently saw a herd of infected elk bed down in a field in front of her home.

"Their hooves are just horribly deformed. And they can barely walk, the ones that have it. They just limp. And then they just lay down," said Bush.

Hunters in the area said elk numbers have decreased significantly in recent years, due in large part to the spread of the disease.

"Everybody's heartbroken over it," said Andy Huffman, who lives in the area. "Watching these poor animals, and there's nothing that can be done about it. They're in pain."

The Department of Fish and Wildlife reports sporadic sightings of the disease as far back as the late 1990s. But now believe the disease is widespread, seen in 10 counties in Southwest Washington, including Clark County and Cowlitz County.

Currently, there is no vaccine for hoof rot, and no effective way to treat the disease in the field.

In extreme cases, infected animals are euthanized to end their suffering.

Wildlife biologists are studying infected herds to see how many of the animals survive and reproduce, but for the time being, there is no plan to address the problem.

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