Did you know that elk were reintroduced to Alabama 100 years ago? According to the “Fifth Biennial Report of the Department of Game and Fish of the State of Alabama,” 55 elk were trapped in Yellowstone National Park for reintroduction to Alabama in 1916. The elk were carried by sleigh to Gardiner, Montana, and then shipped by rail to Alabama.
The elk were distributed to propagation pens in Pickens (12), Sumter (14), Tuscaloosa (17) and Calhoun (12) counties. The plan was for the four landowners to hold the elk as trustees for the people of Alabama. They were to keep the elk in temporary enclosures, properly feed and water them, and then release them at a future date. It was believed that “in 10 years they will multiply into numbers that will stagger the imagination.” Things didn’t quite work out as planned.
In Tuscaloosa County, the elk rushed the fence the very first night and 10 of the 17 broke out. Several died of natural causes and two were killed by nearby citizens. Still, the landowner was confident they would “do well in this territory.”
In Calhoun County, the elk survived the first year and some were transported to Chilton and Coosa counties. One doe reportedly had a calf.
In Sumter County, three elk had calves and all were thought to be doing well the first year.
By 1918, all the elk in Pickens County had succumbed to disease.
In letters dated 1922, the trustees for the elk in Calhoun and Tuscaloosa counties reported that no elk were still alive in those areas. It was believed to be the same In Sumter County. All the elk either had died of diseases, natural causes or were shot by locals.
Reintroduction of wildlife species to areas where they are absent is a highly complex matter. Many questions must be answered, such as:
- Is the habitat suitable?
- How will this affect other wildlife and domestic animals?
- Will the public support reintroduction?
- Why did this animal disappear from here originally?
According to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, about 1 million elk currently live in the western United States, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, and from Ontario west in Canada.
Every few years, there is talk of reintroducing elk to Alabama again. For various reasons, some people think it’s worth another try, but maybe we should think about that experiment 100 years ago and learn from the past.
The photo below is from the Fifth Biennial Report of the Department of Game and Fish of the State of Alabama