Sunday, September 29, 2013

Elk Calf Behavior

Elk calves are often organized in nurseries by cows to share babysitting duties. It is very common to see a group of calves with a few cows looking after them. In the picture below you can see one of these groups.  The calf in the foreground was calling for his mother. 

Friday night this group of calves was in the second field south of the Ponca Access under a shade tree. For some reason the attending cows were gone and 6 or 7 of them were alone there except for 2 spike elk bulls. I got quite a few pictures of this group. I never saw cow elk abandon a nursery but they did in this case.  The calves were calling their cows who were nearby trapped up a trail, cutoff by tourists who were looking at them. 

At the 35 mph speed sign on Highway 43 just south of the Ponca Access, there is a major elk trail heading up to a private field  up the bluff.  People parked in that spot because there was no parking to be had, and they were blocking the return of elk to the field. I could see them looking up the bluff at the trail. I am certain the missing cows were there. I am equally certain that they would have returned to the field if the trail was not blocked. 

I do realize tourists not familiar with elk behavior might kind of mindlessly look up the trail and not connect the dots that those cows were attempting to rejoin the calves across the road. If they had got out of the way for just 10 minutes the cows would have returned to the field and rejoined their calves.  

We all need to respect the animals we view. Wildlife watching tourism requires sensitivity to avoid imposing on the animals. Wild animals need their space and they deserve it. If we impose too much animals they will move away from viewing to re-establish their comfort zone. It is important to get the balance right or there will be no animals to view. It is the right thing to do. Wild animals deserve respect. 

Calf elk calling for their cows

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