Elk were once part of the natural part of the Texas landscape. However, our knowledge of how many elk and where they occurred prior to the 1900s remains a mystery. We do know from historical records that the subspecies of elk that once roamed the Guadalupe Mountains was the Merriam’s elk. Unfortunately this desert subspecies was extirpated by the 1900s. One of the most valuable references we have about the natural history of Texas is the Border Survey performed by Vernon Bailey and host of early naturalists. In that document, Bailey noted that no elk occurred in the state of Texas.
As early as 1927, landowners have attempted to bring back elk to their former range in the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. Additional stockings (or restockings, depending on how you look at it) have also been made since that time. Even Texas Parks and Wildlife Department assisted with elk stocking as recent as the 1980s. To complicate matters, the status of elk was changed from a game animal (where permits were issued by Texas parks and Wildlife Department following field surveys) to an exotic by the 75th Texas Legislature in 1997. Because of the exotic status, little data exist on their status or distribution.
BRI researchers are studying elk populations in the Trans-Pecos, some of our objectives are to:
Assess landowner attitudes toward elk in west Texas
Document population dynamics of elk populations
Determine baseline characteristics on their ecology (distribution, diets, habitat use)
Evaluate the impacts of expanding elk populations on other wildlife (e.g., mule deer and desert bighorn sheep)