Kentucky Elk to Restore West Virginia's Extinct Population
Twenty elk born and raised in Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky will roam free come December 19th, on a 45,000 acre site, in southwestern West Virginia.
This is the first herd the Mountain State will see since the last wild elk was shot in 1875. LBL Environmental Stewardship Manager John Westbrook says overhunting led to the elk’s extinction.
Before leaving office, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin reached out to LBL to develop a partnership in reintroducing the animals.
LBL established its elk herd from Elk Island National Refuge in Albert, Canada in 1996, where 29 wild elk were captured. The LBL now has 72 elk, with 20 of them relocating to WV.
Elk primarily feed on native grasses and herbs during the summer and twigs and nuts during the winter. The LBL Elk and Bison Prairie mimics a habitat similar to the area provided in the grazing sites set aside for the new herd in WV.
Westbrook says the program at LBL is strong because the elk are monitored closely
“Looking at a lot of the interstate regulations and guidelines, they currently mandate that in order to transport animals, they have to be disease free going from one state to the next,” said Westbrook.
Westbrook says LBL has kept their herd disease free for the last 15 years. He says a Department of Natural Resources officer will stay with the herd at all times to ensure food is available and prevent hunting. Each of the elk are monitored by a GPS tracking system as well.