By Nidina Sapkota, Albany High School Intern
Let’s talk about a truly magnificent animal, Tule Elk, or Cervus canadensis nannodes. This subspecies of elk is found only in California and can be spotted roaming around grasslands, marshlands, and coastal prairies. During the mid-1800s, these elk were thought to be extinct due to extensive hunting. It is amazing that these creatures exist in our world today because in the 1870’s only 30 Tule Elk were found living near Bakersfield, California. However, in 1894, a rancher named Henry Miller worked to protect the last few remaining Tule Elk that lived on his land, and helped save them from extinction.
Tule Elk are endemic to California and can be seen in the Tule Elk State Reserve, Point Reyes National Seashore, and a few other picturesque locations in California. Tule Elk State Reserve was created in 1932 to protect the once nearly-extinct animal. Today, we can find over 3,000 Tule Elk in this reserve.
One large threat that Tule Elk once faced was the decline in available food due to overgrazing. Within the last few decades, land management efforts have allowed Tule Elk populations to grow. However, continued development by humans still poses threats to the Tule Elk as they require large spaces to roam. Many herds live close to highly valued coastal and bay/mountain areas. Other major threats include habitat destruction and prevalence of invasive noxious weeds, which can take over many acres of suitable habitat.
The Tule Elk will probably never return to their historic numbers nor to all of their historic range. However, their story of resilience and protection by caring individuals is inspiring and insightful for the future. If Tule Elk and other wildlife are to survive, human expansion into the natural landscape must be balanced with the need to maintain the treasured open spaces of California. In the meanwhile, get out and enjoy these magnificent creatures that can only be found in our state!