Arizona Elk Rounded Up for West Virginia Reintroduction

Angela Ramsey Tucker | Woods Canyon Lake

We told you last summer about a plan to send some of Arizona's elk population to West Virginia for a repopulation project there. Late last month, that project finally got underway, with 60 elk being captured and quarantined in preparation for the journey.

The elk — roughly 50 cows and 10 bulls — were captured via helicopter at the Raymond Wildlife Area east of Flagstaff, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said in a news release. After pursuing each animal in a helicopter, Game and Fish workers fired a handheld "net gun" to entangle the elk, then blindfolded and sedated it before moving it to a quarantine pen.

The elk will head to West Virginia late this month, the department said. There, they'll join a handful of elk transplanted from Kentucky in 2016.

The project is a partnership between Game and Fish and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. It's only the second time elk have been transplanted from Arizona — the first was in 2000, when the state sent 26 elk to Kentucky. That population has thrived, and today, Kentucky has between 10,000 and 15,000 elk.

Of course, Arizona's elk are themselves the product of a reintroduction effort. Their ancestors were brought here from Yellowstone National Park starting in 1913. From those few handfuls of transplants, Arizona's elk population has grown to about 45,000, Game and Fish says.

An elk subspecies native to Arizona, the Merriam's elk, was hunted to extinction by the early 1900s.

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