Conservation Connection: Elk Re-Introduction

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(KPLR) - The dream of seeing elk running wild in Missouri and hearing their mournful bugling during the fall continues to become a reality.  This spring, the Conservation Department is in its third year of elk re-introduction, bringing another round of the animals into the state . . . along with a special surprise.  Dan Zarlenga gave John Fuller an update on the program.

Q.  Why did the Conservation Department pursue bringing elk back to Missouri?

  • MDC is charged with conserving and restoring native species
  • Elk roamed in large numbers here before the Civil War but were wiped out because of uncontrolled hunting and habitat loss
  • Missouri citizens and conservation groups have expressed interest in restoring them
  • The first elk in the re-introduction arrived in spring of 2011
  • The elk re-introduction zone is centered on Peck Ranch Conservation area and confined to sparsely-inhabited counties of Shannon, Reynolds and Carter Counties
  • Elk will provide benefits for wildlife watching, tourism and eventually hunting opportunities

Q.  What’s the update for this year?

  • MDC partnered with state of Kentucky to capture a total 51 elk in that state
  • Missouri received 39 elk
  • The state of Virginia assisted in the effort and received 12 elk
  • The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundationalso provided financial support
  • As before, each animal was marked, GPS collared and thoroughly tested for disease per health protocols developed with the MO Dept. of Agriculture
  • Spent 3 months in quarantine in KY
  • Went through an additional round of health tests before being approved for transport

Q.  When did this year’s animals arrive?

  • The elk arrived at Peck Ranch the morning of May 21--were transported overnight in large cattle trucks to help keep the animals cool
  • Released into holding pens (separated by cows, bulls, yearling calves)
  • Will remain in holding pens for several weeks to acclimate to our climate before a “soft release”
  • The wildlife refuge portion of Peck  will remain closed until through July to minimize human contact and stress while they and newborn calves acclimate

Q. So what was the “surprise” this year?

  • Started out from Kentucky with 39 elk and ended up in Missouri with 40!
  • One of the pregnant cows gave birth on the way
  • The calf was put in a large animal crate and secured it with blankets to continue the trip
  • When the elk were released to the holding pens at Peck Ranch, the calf was reunited with the mother
  • The calf is doing fine and was nicknamed “Plus One”

 

Q.  How many elk do we now have?

  • We had approximately 70 animals prior to bringing in these new elk
  • Now there are over 100
  • Expecting several dozen more new calves this spring

Monitor the elk program and reopening of the Peck wildlife refuge at MDC.mo.gov