Treponeme-Associated Hoof Disease (TAHD) in Elk
WDFW has received sporadic reports of limping and lame elk with abnormal hooves since the mid to late 1990s. In the 2000s, reports of this kind became more frequent, especially after 2008. While elk are affected by numerous conditions which result in lameness or hoof abnormalities, the geographic scope and number of affected elk indicated that a new disease had emerged. Diagnostic research by WDFW, guided by a panel of scientific advisors, diagnosed this new disease as Treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD) in 2014.
TAHD causes limping and lameness in elk due to abnormal hoof growth, lesions and, in severe cases, sloughing of the hoof capsule. TAHD is a form of digital dermatitis, a disease strongly associated with a group of bacteria known as treponemes. Although digital dermatitis has affected the livestock industry for decades, TAHD is the first known instance of digital dermatitis in a wild ungulate.
This unprecedented disease presents a significant challenge to elk management in Washington State. Once an infectious hoof disease enters a herd of animals – whether domestic or wild – it is extremely difficult to eradicate, particularly because there are no vaccines or treatments that are practical options for managing TAHD in free-ranging elk.
WDFW has worked with scientific advisors and stakeholders through technical and public working groups to develop and prioritize TAHD research and management. WDFW has developed methods for determining the disease’s distribution and prevalence, primarily using public and hunter reporting. The disease is most prevalent in southwest Washington but is now confirmed in 17 counties. You can help WDFW track TAHD by reporting observations of affected and unaffected elk on the WDFW’s online reporting form at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases/elk-hoof.
WDFW has also researched the impacts of TAHD on elk survival and productivity, which is being used to design management strategies. Much remains to be learned about this disease and WDFW is partnered with Washington State University to research the disease's causes, transmission, and potential solutions.
- WDFW is offering an incentive permit opportunity to hunters that harvest a diseased elk during general or special permit seasons. Hunters can participate in the program by submitting the hooves from their elk harvest at one of many drop-off locations. Hunters that submit hooves with signs of TAHD (i.e., abnormal hooves) will be automatically entered into a drawing for a special incentive permit. The incentive special permits will include multiple bull permits in western Washington. The season dates will be Sep. 1-Dec. 31 and the incentive permit draw will be held prior to the special permit application deadline. All participating hunters will receive a custom, waterproof license holder.
- Additionally, WDFW is offering special permits under the Master Hunter permit category that are intended to target diseased elk. These permits are offered as a second elk opportunity for antlerless elk using any weapon type (except during overlapping general seasons where they are restricted to the general season weapon type) and are not restricted to private land. Under this permit, Master Hunters must submit all four hooves from their harvest to WDFW for inspection; hunters that successfully harvest an elk with abnormal hooves will be authorized to harvest an additional elk under this permit so long as the number of elk harvested within the license year does not exceed two elk. Elk harvested by Master Hunters under this permit cannot be submitted through the incentive program described above because selection for this permit is itself an incentive. See Elk Special Permits for details on these permits.The goal of this program is for elk with TAHD to represent a larger proportion of total harvest, but WDFW does not anticipate an increase in total harvest. No evidence to date suggests that meat from elk with hoof disease is unsuitable for human consumption. WDFW does not provide replacement transport tags to hunters who harvest an elk with TAHD. Participation in this incentive program is voluntary, and harvest of an elk with hoof disease is optional or part of the Master Hunter permit conditions. WDFW is still finalizing this program and up-to-date information will be available on our website by September 1.