Mysterious Elk Find
A mysterious Elk find opens up new possibilities in conservation. One Elk could be the beginning of a new population of Elk in the Chilcotin Ark.
My first thought was it was a moose. My second thought was what would a moose be doing up here? We were glassing for wildlife at tree line, half way through a two week sheep hunt. We’d just seen five ewes and lambs disappear over a ridge into the clouds.
I looked through my binoculars at this tall, thin, light-coloured animal. It was facing away from me, on a small ridge, with small tree-line trees around. What was it? I couldn’t tell with just my binoculars so I got out my spotting scope. Now I could zoom in on this animal.
It had huge deer-like antlers, not the large paddles moose have. It had a black face and black legs, its body was tan-coloured, the rump slightly lighter but not the white of a mule deer. I could see 4 points on the antlers at the back and 2 points on the front of the antlers above the eyes. The face was almost cow-like. He was facing me now, lowering his neck, lifting his head and bellowing.
If this was a mule deer, he was the strangest looking buck I’d ever seen.
I pointed him out to my hunter who looked through his binoculars and said it looked like an elk. But we didn’t have elk in our corner of the Chilcotin Ark.
Kevan arrived from glassing further along the ridge. We said we’d seen a mule deer that looked like an elk. Like me, Kevan said there were no elk here. But when we described it, Kevan agreed it sure sounded like an elk.
The elk had moved away from the edge of the mountain and after a few minutes looking, Kevan found him again. He was now laying down by a clump of willow bushes. When the sun hit him, his coat was a reddish-brown, his black face and legs contrasted strongly. We observed him bedded down a little longer – there was no doubt he was a Rocky Mountain elk.
He was a satellite bull, which meant he was a young elk branching out on his own, looking for a new territory. This part of the Chilcotin Ark is perfect elk habitat but we almost never see them here. This was only the 2nd live elk we’d seen here in 30 years. The other evidence of elk here had been a few antler sheds and a cougar kill.
I set up my spotting scope on the elk again and lined up my phone so I could take a picture of him through the lens. Although at this distance it was a little out of focus, it clearly showed the elk.
Why was it so important to see this elk here?
It was evidence elk could live here. That the habitat was good for them. We could use this to build a case to get an elk transplant here. Elk are found in other areas of the Chilcotin Ark and east of us, around Lillooet. Elk transplants are also not uncommon in the province of BC. There are elk nearby and this has been done before. Bringing in transplanted elk is the start of repopulating this area with elk and creating a healthy, viable population. Elk lived here before the Bridge River Valley was flooded in the 1950s to make the Carpenter Lake hydro dam.
Previous studies on transplanted elk has shown that they disperse from their release site. This means elk could be released here on the Shulaps Mountain Range and they could populate west into the rest of this part of the Chilcotin Ark, perhaps one day connecting with the elk north and west of here. This would create interconnectivity of elk throughout the Chilcotin Ark and make for better genetic diversity.
Seeing the elk is just the start of building up to the transplant. We have to choose release sites, select our elk for the transplant, choosing where to get them from and how many cows and bulls, raise funds to pay for the relocation costs. The Chilcotin Ark Institute will also need to work with other stake holders such as government biologists, First Nations, loggers and miners in the area and conservation groups in the area the elk are being transplanted from to name but a few.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables involved in an elk transplant. This is just the start of our project to reintroduce Rocky Mountain elk to this southeastern corner of the Chilcotin Ark. Check out our website, chilcotinarkinstitute.com to learn more about all our projects and to find out how you can get involved.