Two Biologists and a Boy: Running the Elk

HIGHLINE ONLINE, NOVEMBER 22, 2011

 

Dylan and his cousin, Drew, watch from the front step as Geoff grabs the “elk stick”  – a hockey stick with multi-coloured plastic strips taped to the blade – and confidently moves toward the bull elk. A member of Parks Canada’s wildlife conflict team, Geoff has a lot of experience with this sort of thing. It’s the fall rut, and he has been moving testosterone-filled bulls away from the townsite before they decide to put their antlers through a vehicle or, worse, a person. Today he is off duty, and just trying to clear a safe path to our car. He roars and hisses at the elk while slamming the end of the stick on the ground like a gladiator in board-shorts. The swishing plastic intimidates the bull, but there will be no fight here – only an attempt to divert the bull to a safer place to hang out with the cows he so desperately wants to mount.

Keeping an eye on the bull. Photo: Niki Wilson

Drew, a city-dweller, is beaming, having seen a wild animal and witnessed Uncle Geoff in action. Dylan seems pleased to be sharing this with his cousin, but makes it clear he has seen it all before. Whether its bulls in the fall, or cows protecting their young in the spring, he knows hormonal wildlife can be dangerous. Add the fact that elk use our front lawn as a wolf-free buffet year round, and you understand why Dylan is constantly vigilant about something as simple as walking from the bike rack to the house.

We have been trying to temper Dylan’s ‘wildlife management’ view of the deer family with an appreciation for their beauty and instinct to survive. I realized the need for this a couple of years ago when Dylan and I came across a pretty illustration in a children’s book. In it, a deer fed on vibrant green grass underneath an apple tree ripe with perfectly round, red fruit. For most children, this scene would impart some kind of fairytale-like serenity, but Dylan simply said: “someone should chase that deer.”

Since then, we’ve upped our wildlife viewing to include places where we can watch elk living free of the elk-stick – from a distance.