Wisconsin Elk Study Progress Report from Dr. Ray Anderson, a professor at UW-Stevens Point and Project Director.
Summary to date: The generally good physical condition of the elk continued to the end of winter, with approximately 13,000 locations logged to date. The elk occupied the same summer range for the past 3 summers and have now formed larger social groups closer to the release site as they have done in past years. The groups have been changing in number almost daily since August .
Sixteen cows could have been pregnant at the beginning of the 1997 calving season. In addition to 9 documented births, the reproductive status of 4 cows has not yet been determined. It is likely that 2 of these have calves since they are mature cows that were with bulls throughout the past rut. (In 1996, only 2 known calf births occurred. One radio-tagged calf — a male out of the Hurley Lady — died thus far, apparently killed by a black bear).
Radio-tagged calves are monitored daily by telemetry and others, when opportune, by direct observation.
Calves were found in areas with mature red pine, 6-year old aspen, mature aspen/balsam; mature white pine, and aspen/birch — with varying understories, e.g. dense hazel understory, logging slash understory; and dense bracken fern understory.
A sample of major potential predators on the study area, black bears and wolves, were monitored by telemetry during the summer. Sixteen bears were captured (7 sows, 9 boars) during the calving season; all sows were radio-collared and one boar was fitted with an ear-tag transmitter; numbered ear-tags were placed on the rest of the boars.
Two wolves, the Alpha female and her yearling daughter, from the Torch River Pack were radio-tagged by Wisconsin DNR. Presence of the radio-tagged predators was determined daily to determine proximity to calves. None were within 1 mile of the calf when it was killed although sows were frequently within 0.25 miles of calves throughout the summer.
Bugling – The first indication of the 1997 rut period was noted on 4 September when the clashing of antlers was heard, and then observed, while 2 bulls were sparring in a meadow in the presence of a group of cows and calves. These were 3-year-old bulls No.03 and 10 who came to Wisconsin as calves in 1995 and now had 3 X 4 and 4 X 4 antlers respectively. No.10 dominated this joust that was accompanied by grunts and wheezes.
After No.03 retreated, No.10 began “herding” the cows and they responded in what appeared to be a “playful” manner. The first serious bugling was heard from No.10 on the day of this report – 17 September.
Future research plans include continued monitoring of the herd for survivorship and movement, with intensive surveillance during the 1997 deer and bear hunting seasons; complete analysis and writing of data from Years 1, 2, and 3; and drafting management guidelines for elk in Northern Wisconsin.
[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user Vicky TGAW]