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This Week’s Creature Feature: Eastern Elk: ­Forever Lost

Rocky Mountain elk repopulate much of their Atlantic range — but not Maryland

 

     European settlers arriving in North America encountered huge populations of eastern elk. These thousand-pound members of the deer family ranged from Louisiana to Canada.

     Have you ever wondered how the Elk River and Elkton were named? Elk were quite plentiful in Maryland.

     By 1870, America’s last Eastern elk was shot in Pennsylvania.

     Elk had certain qualities that made them easy to hunt. They were courageous and seemingly unafraid of humans. They also followed routines, traveling along the same paths and feeding in the same meadows. The meat was said to be excellent in taste, and commercial hunters shipped large amounts to cities.

    The animals were hunted faster than they could reproduce. They disappeared first from the south, then along the Atlantic Coast and finally from the woods of Pennsylvania.

     In 1913 the Rocky Mountain elk, a different species, was successfully transplanted to Pennsylvania. In 1997, elk were reintroduced to Kentucky, then to an isolated valley in North Carolina. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation offered to help reintroduce elk to Maryland in 2011, but the project was scrapped over public opposition.

     Pennsylvania’s elk are doing well. They are wild, unpredictable animals that sometimes disappear in the woods — even though they weigh 700 pounds. Scores of visitors come to seek them, boosting the local tourist economy.