When Francis Drake first went ashore in North America in 1579 at what is now Pt Reyes National Seashore he reported seeing herds of thousands of “large and very fat deer”. What he was referring to were the tule elk. After the gold rush when thousands of people rushed into California large scale market hunting of these tasty animals began, especially in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valley where vast numbers thrived. In a remarkably short time these magnificent creatures were on the brink of extinction. In 1875 Henry Miller, a rancher near Bakersfield took an interest in the dwindling numbers of elk and gave them refuge on his land. He even offered a $500 reward for anyone caught harassing them. The Tule Elk refuge was established on his land in 1934 and from this breeding herd there have been two reintroductions of tule elk into the greater Bay area.
In the late 70’s 13 elk were released at the north end of the Pt Reyes peninsula, at Tomales Point. The other herd is at Grizzly Island State Wildlife Refuge outside of Fairfield in Suisun Bay. Right now is a great time to go visit them, because they are now in the rut, that is the breeding season. The males are battling each other for dominance, throwing their heads back and bugling at one another, digging up wallows and rolling around in the dirt, peeing on their own necks, throwing lupine bushes up onto their heads, and generally acting like a rowdy bunch of males under the influence of testerone. Don’t get too close however they tend to be a bit ornery this time of year. They are establishing a heirarchery. Not surprisingly the ones with the biggest shoulders, largest antlers and toughest attitude will dominate. Then the females choose which dominant male to breed with. They call these breeding groups harems but that term implies male control but it is basically the females excising their own free will and choice. But don’t hesitate.. in another 3 weeks or so the mating season will be over, the guys will settle back down. If it were not for this one mans actions we would have no tule elk in California, they would have had the same fate as the grizzly bear. I thank you Henry
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.