Heat, stress of move likely led to deaths of reintroduced elk
Kurt Schilligo contributed reporting for this story.
The record summer heat has probably contributed to the death of some of the elk herd recently reintroduced in the Missouri Ozarks.
The Missouri Department of Conservation says six female adults and four calves died in mid-to-late July. The mothers of two of the calves were among the dead females.
The dead animals have been submitted to labs at the universities of Missouri and Georgia, and Oklahoma State University, for testing, but MDC biologist Lonnie Hansen says the heat, drought and the relocation are the most likely culprits.
"One thing we can probably rule out is predation," Hansen said. "There would be predators that would only affect young elk, calves, especially newly born calves, and most of the elk that we find have no evidence of predation."
The MDC says testing of the water in the Peck Ranch Conservation Area, where the elk are living, showed no signs of a possible toxic algae. There was also no indication of a toxic insect known as the blister beetle in the elk's food plots.
The MDC, however, did find evidence of a grass that is used as hay in normal years, but is toxic in a drought. And wheat with the potentially toxic black-tip fungus was also found in Peck Ranch food plots. Tests are pending, but the wheat has been mowed.
Hanson says the deaths were to be expected under the circumstances. He says 80 elk are still alive, and the herd overall is healthy.
The MDC began its elk reintroduction last year, mostly in the Peck Ranch Conservation Area.