At the dawn of the 19th century, settlers in Arkansas found themselves in a land of amazing biodiversity. Vast herds of elk roamed the hills and hollows of the Ozarks. Those settlers saw the ancient forests as expendable resources. They harvested the timber and exported it to their neighbors to the north and they hunted the great eastern elk into extinction. By 1840 there were no elk left in the Ozarks.
For almost a century the sound of the bugle was gone from the meadows along the Buffalo River. In 1933 11 Rocky Mountain Elk were transplanted to Arkansas. They thrived in the same meadows where they had lived since before the coming of the white man. The Wapiti were once again roaming in those ancient meadows. Those 11 transplanted elk grew into a sustainable herd of over 200 animals.
By 1955 the elk had completely disappeared once again. The destruction of their habitat and poaching lead to the complete devastation of the restored herd.
In 1981 the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission attempted a second restoration. Over the next 4 years 112 elk were gradually transplanted into Newton County along the banks of the Buffalo.
Today a healthy and monitored herd of over 500 populate 5 counties. Almost a hundred live in the Boxley Valley alone.
Here are some shots I took this weekend of bulls in Boxley Valley, near the Buffalo River.
This is George – at least that’s what I call him. I have seen him in this same spot before. His antlers are a bit crooked, but they look better than they did last year. Bulls shed their antlers every winter so this years growth looks a bit more symmetrical that they were when I saw him last. He also is a bit knock kneed on his rear legs. He seems to like it here in front of the creek. He grazes and poses for the early morning photogs and spotters who fill the valley. From the look of his antlers I would guess that he is 3-4 years old.
This is a great old fellow. He is simply enormous, but he seems to lack the bulk of a younger bull. Most bulls live about 6 years, the oldest known bull in Arkansas was 15. Their antlers start to decline in size around 10 or 12 years of age, so I’m guessing he’s somewhere north of 10.
This is a pair of youngsters I spotted alongside the road. They have the antlers of a 2-year-old. Spindly without definite points. They were off alone away from the females – bachelors. Elk are very social and males like this tend to live in small groups away from the cows and calves.
This isn’t a great shot – it was into the sun and a pretty far distance off, but I include it to show the size of a bull towards the end of his prime. I got the chance to hear him bugle for the ladies in the meadow about a quarter-mile away.
It’s good to see bulls of all ages in the herd. Some of the cows have tracking collars and great care is taken to prevent poaching. The herds placement was established with the assistance of the locals, so they are not seen as pests, but rather as a part of the environment.
It looks like the Natural State got it right this time, third time’s a charm.