CADIZ, Ky. — Curtis Fowler eased down the truck window as we slowly rolled along the road. He carefully selected his target and stretched the barrel of his rifle out the driver’s side window. Fowler checked his range finder, adjusted the rifle sites, and carefully squeezed the trigger. The silent pop followed by a high pitched “whack” indicated a hit. No, it wasn’t an illegal poaching raid. Fowler is the U.S. Forest Service Wildlife Technician in charge of the Elk and Bison Prairie at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation area in Kentucky. The shot was a dart loaded with a cocktail of sedative drugs called “BAM.” Several minutes later the first elk with a dart in its rump began to lie down, temporarily incapacitated.
“You have to be careful because they are still producing saliva,” Fowler had explained during a meeting prior to the operation. “You have to get their body upright quickly and continue to hold their head up so they can keep breathing and their body functions can continue.”
The operation was a bi-annual health check on the LBL bison and elk herd. About 70 elk roam the limited area, which is slightly more than the property can support. Therefore, from time to time, a few of the elk need to be removed. A year ago, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources received two dozen of the surplus elk to launch West Virginia’s elk reintroduction program. The efficiency of the West Virginia team in capturing the animals prompted the U.S. Forest Service to request West Virginia’s assistance for a second year–this time to tranquilize and do health checks on the entire herd. The payout was another 17 or so elk to be transferred to West Virginia.
“There have been animals from this property that have gone to Tennessee, North Carolina, and a few other states in their reintroduction effort,” said Eric Richmond of the West Virginia DNR..
Richmond led a five member team from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources along with a handful of volunteers from West Virginia who bundled up for a cold and busy day. By 7:30 a.m. six elk were on the ground and one by one each was blindfolded, stabilized, and transported to a handling facility on the area. Each animal was worked up in preparation for a health check by a USDA veterinarian and those which were designated as bound for West Virginia were given extra bling to wear on their big trip to the mountains.
“We put our ear tags on them so we can identify them from a distance,” said Richmond. “They’ve got pit-tags at the base of their ears and radio collars to track their movements and we collected DNA samples,”
Fowler added a metal tag to the ear of each elk bound for West Virginia which allowed them to be transported across state lines.
“You can say these are certified disease free animals,” said Richmond. “They monitor them regularly and they have been proven to be disease free.”
The elk from Land Between the Lakes will soon be transported from Kentucky to West Virginia where they’ll be released on the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County. The release will be combined with approximately 60 elk recently captured by the West Virginia DNR and officials from the Arizona Game and Fish Department to be added to the growing Mountain State elk herd.
Both sets of animals remain quarantined and awaiting health clearance to make the journey to Logan County.