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Elk in Arkansas

Elk in Arkansas

Rocky Mountain Elk in Arkansas 

Arkansas has been called the "Natural State" for many years.  Just a brief visit to the state and you will understand why.   Individuals have the opportunity to experience a vast array of activities involving nature.

Wildlife in the state has changed in the past twenty years.   Although the state has been blessed with white-tailed deer, another member of the family, the elk, was missing.  That has changed thanks to the involvement of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.  A restoration program to bring elk back to Arkansas began with a trade agreement in 1980.  The reality of the program became apparent when the first of the Rocky Mountain elk arrived in northwest Arkansas in 1981.   Over a period of five years, 112 elk were brought to the state.  As the population of the elk continued to grow, so has the success of the restoration program.

Teachers have the opportunity to encourage students to find out more about the Rocky Mountain elk as a class project.  Share the excitement of the students as they learn more about this magnificent animal.

The Return of Elk to Arkansas

The eastern elk (Cervus elephus canadensis) once lived in Arkansas but seemed to disappear around 1840. It is now considered extinct. Several attempts have been made to bring elk back to Arkansas prior to the 1980's but the elk did not survive. The combination of illegal hunting and lack of an adequate habitat have proven to be detrimental to the elk (Sealander, 1979; Cartwright, 1993).

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources made an agreement in 1980 in which large-mouth bass in Arkansas would be traded for Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elephus nelsoni) in Colorado. In March of 1981, seven elk were brought to Newton County in an attempt once again to establish elk in Arkansas. The restoration program would continue to grow.  In 1983, 24 more elk were brought from Colorado to Newton County. A park in Nebraska provided 7 more elk as a gift to the state in 1983. One of the greatest efforts came in 1985 when 74 elk were brought to Newton County from Colorado (Cartwright,1993).

The population of the elk has continued to grow to an estimated number of 450 elk located primarily along the Buffalo National River.   The continual success of the elk program has been shared among the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the National Park Service, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.   The program's success became evident when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission announced in January of 1998 that first elk hunt would be held in September of 1998.   Twenty permits were issued for hunting only in designated areas in northwest Arkansas.  Two of the twenty permits were donated to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for auction to raise money for the organization.  The remainder of the permits were issued to Arkansas residents (AGFC,1998).

Along with the announcement of the first elk hunt in Arkansas, came a renewed interest in the elk in the state. Many students wanted to learn more about this magnificent animal. The following lesson plan allows the students to investigate many aspects of the elk. They will discover fascinating information about the elk's taxonomy, anatomy, physiology, habitat, behavior, adaptations, history, and re-establishment in Arkansas.

Project Author: Deborah Cearley

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