West Virginia wildlife officials now know when they’re going to get their next batch of elk.
Division of Natural Resources workers will travel to Arizona in late January to assist with the capture and processing of up to 60 elk destined for the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County. Those elk will join the 22 the DNR acquired in 2016 from Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie.
Paul Johansen, the DNR’s wildlife chief, said a private company with “vast experience in trapping animals, particularly [deer and elk],” will do the capturing. DNR workers will tag the animals, put radio collars on them, implant microchips in them, and take blood samples from them for disease testing.
Randy Kelley, elk project leader for the agency, said he was a little surprised when he was told it would take only three days to catch that many elk.
“I figured it would take about a week, but the company that will be doing the work is apparently really good at it,” he added. “The Arizona folks said they were able to capture about 20 a day when they were helping Kentucky with their elk reintroduction project.”
Kelley will head up a crew of four to five DNR workers who have experience at handling elk, which can weigh as much as 700 pounds.
“If [the contractor is] able to capture the animals that fast, we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” he said. “That means we’ll be working up two to three of them every hour.”
Each elk will receive metal ear tags, a microchip for identification and a radio collar, so the animal can be tracked after it is released in West Virginia. Blood samples will be sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Ames, Iowa, where they will be tested for bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis. DNR crews will also take DNA samples.
“As soon as the last elk goes into the holding pen in Arizona, a 30-day quarantine period will begin,” Kelley said. “We anticipate getting the test results back in three to seven days. If there are no problems, the elk will complete their 30-day quarantine.
“As soon as the quarantine ends, we’ll have a trucking company on standby to pick up the elk and transport them to West Virginia. If they drive straight through, the trip across the country should take 26 to 34 hours.”
Once they arrive, the elk will be offloaded into a 3-acre holding pen on the Tomblin WMA near Holden. They’ll be given some time to acclimate to their new surroundings before being released.
Kelley said the DNR will rotate the crews they send to Arizona so no one has to stay for a month or more.
Wildlife chief Johansen credited the Arizona Fish and Game Department for making the elk transfer possible.
“They have a highly professional staff out there, and they’ve bent over backward to assist us,” he said. “This is a classic example of one wildlife agency assisting another, and we very much appreciate the work they’re doing to make our elk reintroduction effort possible.”
If all goes as planned, DNR officials hope to release the elk sometime in March.