Some months back, we listened to the haunting cries of the North American elk at the start of their mating season. And now, in the Rocky Mountains, elk are preparing to move to lower altitudes to escape the threat of deep snow. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
Bob Garrott is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Montana State University. He tells us that once the mating season is over, the elk don’t have much time before their primary food, grass, is covered up with snow. And without food, they’re weak and vulnerable.
“Then they begin a period of slow starvation throughout the winter. During this period, is extreme stress on the animals, and this is when most of the animals are lost, primarily to starvation. In those areas where we also have large predators like mountain lions, wolves, and to some extent grizzly bears, there can be a significant amount of animals lost do to predation. But in most areas of the United States, most animals are lost during the winter due to starvation.”
Unfortunately for the elk, humans have moved into a number of their traditional wintering areas, limiting the options for winter grazing. As a result, sanctuaries, such as the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming, have been set up to provide for the elk during the winter, to prevent their starvation.
“In places like Jackson Hole, there’s actually a major feeding operation where thousands of animals are fed a pelleted ration, essentially to mitigate for the loss of winter range in the Jackson Hole Valley. It’s a very mechanized operation where very large machines move across the feed grounds, distributing pellets in rows on the ground. And the animals move onto these rows as soon as the machines pass, and feed. And this occurs every daythrought the most severe part of winter.”
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I’m Jim Metzner.