Elk Species Rebounds from Near-Extinction

Wildlife — By Stephanie on June 22, 2010 at 6:29 am
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Elk herds in California have grown to healthy populations recently (image from Hunter-Desportes on Flickr)

Recently, we’ve learned of some wildlife news that’s just Peachy!  An elk species that was down to only two animals just about 100 years ago, has rebounded from near-extinction.

The Tule Elk, a subspecies of elk, lives only in California.  In the late 1800s, the impact of the Gold Rush brought these animals to the very brink of extinction.  Some believe that only 2 animals – a male and female – remained.

Today, however, the numbers have climbed back to nearly 4,000 Tule Elk.  Commented Joe Hobbes, a California Department of Fish and Game biologist:

“It’s one of the greatest wildlife success stories in California.  We’re pretty much running out of places to put extra elk.”

Intensive reintroduction efforts for elk in California is part of the reason for the success.  In addition, big thanks go to private property owners who have allowed the state to place elk on their land.

In fact, the preservation efforts have been so successful that number now need to be controlled by the only means available: hunting.  Natural predators of the Tule Elk (grizzy bear and wolves) are no longer found in California.  So, hunting licenses are issued each year to keep populations within control and to avoid conflicts with farms and neighborhoods that have expanded into the elks’ habitat.

In a single year, the number of permits issued grew from 330 to 350.  Yet, 26,000 hunters applied for these coveted licenses.

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Elk bulls in California (image from Miguel Vieira on Flickr)

The large swing in population has led to a number of questions that continued to be pondered by wildlife officials:

  • how will re-introduced elk affect plants, especially invasive species?
  • why are some herds still suffering disease outbreaks?
  • how can we safely keep elk populations under control?
  • should we up hunting licenses or use birth-control drugs?

Its almost luxurious to be considering these questions, given how far the elk species has rebounded from near-extinction.  As humans have caused the tipping point nearly to be reached with these animals, they now are responsible for the opposite extreme.

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Newborn Elk Calves show promise for the future

While hunters nearly wiped out the Tule Elk in the 1800s, they are now being called in to help balance Mother Nature and the food chain in California.

Some say ironic, others cite the circle of life.  In either event, its worth celebrating that this nearly-extinct subspecies is now thriving!

What do you think about the Tule Elk in California?

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  1. Frank says:

    I’m glad to see the Tule Elk population where it is today. I lived on the central coast of California in the 90s and I always heard people talk about how they are in danger of extinction. What a difference a few years makes.

  2. Ed Loosli says:

    Tule Elk thriving??
    There used to be 500,000 Tule Elk in California. Now there are less than 1% of that number — thriving??

    There are hundreds of thousands of acres still left to re-locate Tule Elk to, except that the cattle industry doesn’t want the competition and the California Dept. of Fish and Game defers to the cattle industry. Also, the California Dept. of Fish and Game refuses to re-locate Tule Elk to huge ranches where the owners do not allow hunting. There could easily be 40,000 Tule Elk in California, not just 4,000, if the Calif. DF&G would do their job.

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