Meet our researchers – Dr. Margaret Wild

Dr. Margaret Wild joined the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology in the College of Veterinary Medicine in 2018 to lead Washington’s elk hoof disease research efforts.

Wild earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a PhD in zoology from Colorado State University. She authored or co-authored more than 50 scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Among the species she has conducted research with are elk, deer, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, Canada lynx, and black-footed ferrets.

From 2000 until joining WSU, Wild was the chief wildlife veterinarian for the National Park Service.

What are your current research interests and what attracted you to that area?

My current research focuses on an emerging hoof disease of elk known as treponeme-associated hoof disease. The impacts from the disease were so concerning to citizens in Washington that in 2017 the state Legislature tasked WSU with creating a new research program to investigate the disease and explore potential solutions.

I came to WSU in 2018 to develop the research program. I’ve spent a large part of my career studying another disease in elk, chronic wasting disease, and it is exciting to apply lessons learned from chronic wasting disease to understand more about hoof disease. We are using a multi-pronged approach in our investigations, but I am most excited about our work using captive elk under controlled conditions to learn about disease transmission and what might reduce impacts to elk.

What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with your research?

Ideally, it would be wonderful to discover a prevention or cure for hoof disease in free-ranging elk. Realistically, though, I’m sorry to say that isn’t likely in the near future. Instead, our goals are to support wildlife managers by learning about the cause and contributing factors of the disease and to provide recommendations about how management actions could minimize the risk or severity of the disease.

How can your research help people and animals?

I conduct applied research that focuses on addressing questions that are important to wildlife managers and the public. Providing managers with information allows them to make informed decisions on management actions. For example, our recent research with captive elk confirmed hoof disease is infectious and transmissible. This information can be used by managers to implement actions that reduce transmission between elk.

It is also important that we interact with the public, particularly people who enjoy viewing and hunting elk, to share our findings and learn from their observations. Hunters reported that elk with hoof disease often had abnormal antlers. We investigated their concerns and found support for their observations: Elk with hoof disease had double the odds of having asymmetrical antlers. Unfortunately, diseases often have impacts on wild animals that extend beyond direct mortality to other qualities that may reduce survival, reproductive potential, and the value attributed to them by people.  

What do you enjoy about working with students?

It is amazing to see how quickly students learn and grow during their educational program. I enjoy sharing their excitement in new discoveries and appreciate their determination in addressing challenges. It makes me proud to see their research, communication, and collaboration skills develop and to know they will apply this knowledge as the next generation of wildlife health professionals.

What advice would you give to younger people considering a career in science?

I enjoy providing a unique perspective for students to consider when choosing a career where they can apply knowledge gained at WSU. I spent most of my career working for federal and state wildlife management agencies and like introducing students to a potential career path in public service. Pursuing a career in wildlife health can be challenging and you won’t be rich. But the non-monetary rewards are incredible, and they make all the hard work worthwhile. I can’t imagine a more fulfilling career.