Five bull elk in Alberta’s Ya Ha Tinda herd were recently collared as part of the University of Montana’s (UMT) longest running elk study. While cow elk and calves are typically tracked for elk research, this is the first time bull elk have been captured and collared in an attempt to track the ever-evolving elk ecosystem.
According to the SCI Foundation, the Ya Ha Tinda herd is “one of the most iconic in Canada” and a good representative of elk herd dynamics across North America. This study, which began over 15 years ago, is one of the longest attempts at identifying and understanding “population dynamics, predator-prey relationships and habitat use” within this elk herd, which has dwindled from 2,200 elk to only 500 over the past 20 years.
The SCI Foundation and the Hunter Legacy Fund are supporters of this study, which includes 730 cows, 113 calves and, now, five bull elk. Researchers are using the data to track the long-term sustainability of the Ya Ha Tinda herd.
Because of the length and depth of this study, many of the wildlife students involved have gone on to become leading elk biologists and managers across North America – a significant result of hard work, dedication, and in-the-field experience. Students work on a variety of projects that range from migration to calf ecology to parasitology.
As the study continues, it will be interesting to see how the addition of the bull elk will help researchers understand how recovering predators, hunter harvest, habitat, and other factors impact elk within the Ya Ha Tinda herd.