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Reintroducing Wild Elk to Ontario
March 3, 2007

Research by Trent Graduate Students Key to Survival of Once Extirpated Species

Over a century after disappearing, wild elk have been successfully reintroduced in Ontario, thanks to a Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) program led by Trent University adjunct professor and MNR research scientist Rick Rosatte.

Prof. Rosatte co-authored a study describing the effectiveness of this initiative that appears in this month’s issue of the journal Restoration Ecology.

The Wild ElkOnce native throughout Ontario, populations of wild elk, also known as wapiti, were decimated during the 1800s due to extensive over-hunting.  By 1996, only 60 animals remained in the province. 

“An important finding of this study was that elk that were given the most time to acclimatize to their new surroundings had the greatest rate of survival,” said Prof. Rosatte.  “These animals experienced less stress once released and dispersed less outside the preferred habitat range.”  Prof. Rosatte explained that this “soft-release” methodology offers a successful model for other projects attempting to restore large ungulate populations in other parts of North America.

Several graduate students from Trent University’s Watershed and Ecosystems Graduate Program were also important contributors to this study.  One of these, Ph.D. candidate Terese McIntosh, continues to study the DNA of the released elk in order to assess their long-term viability in the wild.

“A lot of relocations haven’t worked in the past, but this one did,” said Ms. McIntosh.  “It feels really good to be working with some of the best researchers, not only in Canada, but in North America toward helping wildlife flourish.” 

The MNR and Trent University regularly collaborate on a variety of wildlife and aquatic research projects to advance the conservation and management of numerous species, such as moose, polar bears, fish and wolves.  Graduate students’ research projects are considered a great asset to these initiatives.