The Behaviour and Dynamics of a Restored Elk (Cervus canadensis manitobensis) Population in Southern Ontario, Canada: 5-12 Years Post Restoration

Posted on May 23, 2014

Author

Rick ROSATTE

Correspondence: Rick Rosatte, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section, Trent University, DNA Building, 2140 East Bank Dr., Peterborough, ON, K9J 7B8, Canada. Email: rick.rosatte@ontario.ca

Submitted 29 January 2014 – Accepted 23 May 2014


Abstract

Elk (Cervus canadensis) were extirpated from Ontario, Canada, during the late 1800s. As part of a provincial restoration effort, 120 Elk acquired from Elk Island National Park (EINP) Alberta, Canada, were released during 2000 and 2001 near the town of Bancroft, Ontario. The majority of this study focused on the dynamics of six social units of Elk in an approximate 2,500 km2 area near Bancroft, Ontario, from 2006 to 2013, 5 to 12 years post restoration. Most Elk had above average body mass and post mortem examinations revealed that 61% (25 of 41) were in good condition. Sixteen of those 41 Elk were in an emaciated condition and succumbed during the initial years of the restoration project (2000-2006). Four of those initial years had a winter severity index of moderately severe or severe. Productivity of cow Elk was 24% to 65% (percentage of cows with calves during late winter). Elk finite survival rate was 0.79 (Standard Error = 0.13) in 2006-2010, prior to the initiation of hunting, and 0.76 (SE = 0.07) in 2011 and 2012, after a hunt was initiated. From 2006 to 2013, Elk were found in several small- to large- sized social units within the 2,500 km2 Bancroft Area Core Elk Zone. The mean size of social units ranged from 11 to 47 Elk. Mean bull:cow and calf:cow ratios in the Bancroft area during 2002-2013 were 25:100 and 39:100, respectively. However, the mean bull:cow ratio in areas where winter feeding by residents occurred was 48:100 during late-winter surveys. By comparison, bull:cow ratios in areas where winter feeding did not occur averaged 13:100. The estimated mean Elk population size in the Bancroft Area Core Elk Zone increased from 107 in 2002 to 499 in 2013. The annual rate of increase during most years ranged from 23% to 34%. These rates were achieved most likely due to a lack of significant predation; however, population declines were experienced during some years due to a variety of mortality factors. Elk density in the Bancroft Area Core Elk Zone in 2013 was about 0.2/km2, which is likely far below the biological carrying capacity of the habitat.

Key Words: Behaviour, Cervus canadensis, Elk, Population Dynamics, Restoration, Survival.

 

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