Intersection - Bringing Elk Back to Missouri

Apr 19, 2016

An adult bull elk like the one poached in December.
Credit Micah Walker

  This week on Intersection, we take a look at the Missouri Department of Conservation's efforts to reintroduce elk into Missouri, and we discuss the poaching of a bull elk in December. Our guests this week are resource scientist for the MU Department of Conservation Barbara Keller, State Wildlife Veterinarian for the MDC Kelly Straka, MDC agent Brad Hadley and elk program manager for the MDC David Hasenbeck . Listen to the full story or check out clips from selected interviews below.

Listen to the full story.


A bull elk, cow and calf walking near the woods.
Credit Micah Walker

Barbara Keller asking for help in the ongoing investigation.

Brad Hadley on the elk that was poached in December.

Hadley on the statewide concern over elk poaching.

David Hasenbeck on elk habitat and how it was prepared.

Kelly Straka on her necropsy, or animal autopsy, of the poached elk.

Straka on health concerns for the elk herd in Missouri.

An image of a side profile of an adult bull elk.
Credit Micah Walker

A selected transcription from our interview with Kelly Straka.

You're a veterinarian and you work with living animals but you also do all sorts of necropsies. How did that become a part of your work?

So as a veterinarian I help our biologists in the field working with any research animals. Any time we capture or immobilize animals I get to help on those projects. But on the other side of things, too, if we have an animal that is either found dead or a landowner is worried about it and wants to know what happened, that is part of my role, too, is trying to figure out the CSI aspects of it. A little bit more forensics work to try to figure out how this animal died and if it is a disease, is it a concern to either pets or livestock or other wildlife? Is that a concern as well? So that all falls under sort of my purview.

 

A selected transcription from our interview with David Hasenbeck.

 

For you, after all these years with the elk, five years I think, what amazes you most about them?

 

Well I'm just amazed with seeing the population expand and grow into an area that I've worked with, that I've worked with over the last 25 years. It's actually pretty rewarding, you know, to see how well they're doing. The other thing that I've been impressed with is really how excited the local folks are and how protective they are of the elk population. So, I'm proud of our local citizens and I'm actually proud to be involved with the project. I've been working in this area for over 25 years and I never thought I'd see the day where I saw an elk walk across the road, but it's pretty cool.

 

A selected transcription from our interview with Barbara Keller.

 

And when were elk last, sort of, naturally in Missouri? What happened to them?

 

Sure, it would have been the late 1800s would have been the last time that we had elk in Missouri. Elk were once present throughout much of Eastern North America but with the arrival and settlement of Europeans, the range of elk in Eastern North America gradually began to shrink westward. And Missouri was actually one of the last places that you saw elk in Eastern North America but they did go extinct here by the late 1800s.

 

Of course, there was the elk that was poached and then the antlers were removed with a chainsaw in December. As somebody who's worked so hard to bring them back how did that feel for you?

 

It was disgusting to see that it was one of our original elk bulls that we brought over from Kentucky and released here in Missouri and so very disappointing to see that happen. Especially since that person not only, he removed one of our breeding bulls from the population. That bull should have been available to all Missourians to view in the future or perhaps harvest one day legally. Not only did he just cut off the antlers, he left the rest of the body there to rot. So that was hundreds of pounds of meat that were just left to spoil. It was very disappointing to see that.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.