Elk sightings on trail cams have been increasing in Iowa, according to state wildlife officials. This comes after numerous reports from individuals who were more than a little surprised to capture footage of the animals on their cameras.
“I had reports coming in weekly to my office all fall,” noted Josh Gansen, a wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Saylorville Wildlife Unit, in a news release. “It’s to the point that it’s no longer uncommon.”
The Great Plains
While once plentiful in the Great Plains region, elk started to disappear in Iowa by the 1860s. According to Field & Stream, the last reported historical sighting of elk was in 1871. Protected by Iowa law, recent elk sightings are viewed as a chance to appreciate an animal that was once right at home in the Hawkeye state. “Take a moment to enjoy seeing a wild elk in Iowa,” Doug Chafa, a wildlife biologist with IDNR’s Missouri River Wildlife Unit, stated. “As long as these animals are not causing any problems, our position is we are going to leave them be.”
Officials in the area say that the influx of the animals is most likely due to young males splintering from wild herds in western and central Nebraska or South Dakota’s Black Hills. The reason? They’re in search of new territory. At this point, it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many of them have arrived, because the roaming bulls can appear on multiple trail cameras and they’re not tagged. This can make it hard to tell who’s who.
But the increase in sightings may be driven by other factors. For instance, people are installing more trail cams than in previous years, according to the IDNR. Officials there say neither elk nor moose — another seldom-seen visitor to the state — have established breeding populations there. Once native to Iowa, elk were a staple for regional tribes and migrating pioneers before being pushed out.
Referred to as wapiti by the Shawnee, Elk are among the largest species within the deer family, aka Cervidae, and one of the biggest terrestrial mammals in its native range of North America and Central and East Asia. A bull elk averages 5 feet at the shoulders and weighs between 700 and 1,100 pounds. They tend to be most dangerous during the autumn rutting season when they are battling other males for breeding rights. Colorado is currently home to the largest herd in the U.S., with about 300,000 specimens as of 2021.