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Efforts To Restore Missouri Elk Herd Succeeding

More than 100 elk are now living in southeast Missouri after efforts to restore the species to the state.
David Stonner
Missouri Department of Conservation

Efforts to reestablish an elk population in southeastern Missouri are now in their third year, and the Missouri Department of Conservation considers the project a success.

There are close to 70 elk now living in parts of Carter, Shannon and Reynolds counties, with another 50 arriving in May.

A number of calves have been born at Peck Ranch, including this 2011 newborn.

The Missouri Department of Conservation’s elk restoration program coordinator, Ronald Dent, says almost all the elk have stayed in the restoration zone, and so far they haven’t caused any problems.

“No vehicle collisions, we’ve had no fence damage reported, and no one complaining about them basically on their land eating their forage,” Dent said.

Dent says some of the elk have died from stress, parasites, or heat and nutrition problems caused by last year’s drought.

But tests have found no diseases that could be transmitted to cattle or other livestock.

Dent says operational costs for the project have totaled just over $2 million, more than double the MDC’s initial estimate of $411,000.

A group of female elk with GPS collars await release in a holding pen at Peck Ranch.

“But a lot of that money has been spent for habitat work here in the state of Missouri that will benefit not just elk but all wildlife species,” Dent said. “In fact we’ve seen a tremendous number of deer and turkey using those areas.”

Dent says the MDC has received more than $1 million in outside monetary support from organizations including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The MDC has also established a self-guided tour route through the restoration zone to allow people to view the elk.

Dent says that route is currently closed to give the new elk time to settle in, but that it will reopen on July 1.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience

Veronique is a science & technology reporter for KWMU in St. Louis.
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