An uncommon vehicle and wildlife accident called in to the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Office Sept. 16 leaves many to wonder, where did it come from?
A young bull elk estimated to be between two and three years old was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on Highway 71 at 5:33 a.m.
Sheriff Randy Strong posted about the accident via the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page 20 minutes after the accident occurred.
“To my knowledge, this is a first in our county,” Strong said in the post.
According to Nodaway County Conservation Agent Nathan Carr, northern Missouri does not have an established elk population.
“The one that got hit on the highway was just an elk that, I guess, decided to wander,” Carr said. “We’re not really sure where it’s from exactly.”
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, elk are the second largest members of the deer family behind the moose. Adult elk can weigh more than 800 pounds and stand about four to five feet at the shoulders. In comparison, white-tailed deer typically don’t weigh more than 250 pounds and stand three to three and a half feet at the shoulders. A five to six-month-old elk calf is equivalent to the size of an adult doe white-tailed deer.
Elk were once native to Missouri as reported by early explorers in the early 1800s, but by the mid-1800s, elk were largely eradicated from within the state due to overhunting. It wasn’t until 2011 that MDC stepped in to reintroduce the species into the Peck Ranch Conservation Area located in southern Missouri.
However, because of close monitoring and tracking, Carr finds it less likely that the struck elk was from the Peck Ranch Conservation Area herd.
“We’ve got some folks who track that herd pretty closely, and we don’t have any reason right now to believe it’s from that group of elk, but we can’t necessarily rule that out at this time either,” Carr said. “We suspect it’s from somewhere out west or possibly up north.”
Jay McGhee, a natural sciences assistant professor and Northwest Wildlife Club advisor at Northwest, also believes it is less probable that the elk came from Peck Ranch Conservation Area. He said he suspects the elk to have come from a herd in Kansas or Nebraska.
“It’s unlikely that the elk hit a few days ago is from that herd as it’s too far away,” McGhee said. “Nevertheless, there are reports of elk spotted in northwest Missouri each year, so perhaps a population is beginning to establish in the area.”
According to MDC, elk have been reportedly sighted in 44 of Missouri’s 114 counties since 2013. Many sightings are often of the same individual animal.
Despite this, Carr said he does not think the population will ever spread out enough to establish itself here.
“We’ll see it spread somewhat from its current range, but the Department (of Conservation) is going to implement a hunting season to hopefully keep that elk herd in check,” Carr said. “I don’t think we'll ever have that many elk in northern Missouri.”
Both Carr and McGhee said they believe if elk did happen to become more populated in other parts of Missouri, it would be beneficial for the state and its economy.
“In terms of impacts on people, if we get an elk population established in our area it has the potential to bring some hunting dollars to the region, not to mention the joy of seeing a native reestablished in its historic range,” McGhee said.