Earlier this year, officials with Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota hired helicopter crews to “herd” roughly 400 of the park’s elk into nearby Custer State Park for settlement. Wind Cave National Park is overrun with the animals and Custer hosts only a small population, so the decision to enact the program was simple–for humans. To the elk, however, Wind Cave was home.
According to the Rapid City Journal, a number of the elk have already migrated back inside Wind Cave National Park. Last week alone, biologists found that as many as 10 radio-collared elk originally from Wind Cave have returned, along with an unknown number of non-collared elk.
“We gave CSP [Custer State Park] equipment to be able to track our radio-collared elk,” said Tom Farrell, chief of interpretation at Wind Cave. “And they noticed the signals that seemed to be away from the fence and back inside the park. At this point we don’t know how many came back in.”
Before the migration, Farrell estimated the national park’s elk population to have skyrocketed to an estimated maximum of 950 individuals, far higher than the goal of 250 to 450 that wildlife managers had set. After officials believed the elk to have settled in nearby Custer, fences were built along the border of the two parks to control the movement of wildlife. Unfortunately, these fences have proved to be no deterrent to the homesick elk, who have found ways to crawl under or otherwise break in.
“Some of these animals are 15 or 16 years old. They’ve been giving birth to calves in the park all those years,” Farrell said. “They’re desperate to get back in.”
The return of the elk is proving to be a problem for wildlife managers, but they are not planning to push the animals back to Custer State Park anytime soon. Instead, park officials will be reinforcing the border fences to prevent more elk from entering. Despite this setback, the park is moving forward on its attempts to reduce the elk population, hopefully by moving the animals next door yet again.
Image courtesy Wind Cave National Park