Researchers to ‘hunt’ Kentucky elk by helicopter for reproductive study

Aircraft will be used to capture elk; all animals to be released
After fitting the elk with transmitters, the elk will be released back into the wild near their point of capture
to learn more about their behavior.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Researchers will use a helicopter to locate and capture elk this month as part of a major research study on elk reproduction and population growth. The research will be conducted throughout Kentucky’s elk zone and will launch this month.

“Netting by helicopter is the best way to live-capture elk for this important study on reproduction and survival,” said Kyle Sams, acting deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “After fitting the elk with transmitters, we will release them back into the wild near their point of capture so we can learn more about their behavior.”

The effort marks the start of an ambitious three-year capture program to include hundreds of elk across Eastern Kentucky. The study is a collaborative effort between Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and the University of Kentucky. The department will fund the effort and provide technical guidance while the university will analyze the data collected and report its findings.

The capture-and-release effort will be carried out on private lands with prior landowner permission and some public lands across the 16-county elk zone in southeastern Kentucky. This will optimize the geographic distribution of data collected.

All captured elk will be released back into the wild near the capture site.

Cow elk will be fitted with special devices that will alert researchers when a calf is born. Researchers will then be able to more effectively locate newborn elk, which will then be fitted with transmitter collars for further study.

Bull elk will be fitted with tracking collars so researchers can better gauge the survival of the elk.

Spurring this research is the transition of elk habitat across much of Eastern Kentucky over the past two decades, from vast open grasslands to denser brush and young forests today. Being able to locate newborn elk in forested areas will provide researchers a better understanding of the entire elk population. Previous studies primarily relied upon young calves captured in open areas.

This year’s capture effort is expected to last 5-7 days. Its duration is dependent on weather conditions and success. Researchers hope to capture 75 elk, split about evenly between bulls and cows.

Biologists also will use the opportunity to conduct live disease testing on elk to help gauge the herd’s health.

For more information on Kentucky’s elk restoration and research programs, please visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at fw.ky.gov.