Look to the left. Look to the right. They’re everywhere!
Nary a day goes by that we don’t see elk strolling down the middle of streets, helping themselves to birdseed and floral bushes in backyards and sometimes romping through town parks.
Strange as it may seem, before the early 1900s, the entire territory of Arizona had not one elk roaming anywhere in the state.
But that changed in 1913, one year after Arizona achieved statehood, when 83 elk were brought by rail from Yellowstone Park and released in Cabin Draw near Chevelon Creek. Arizona Game and Fish now estimates that Arizona’s elk population stands at about 45,000 post-hunt adults and with cow (female) elk producing at least one calf each year for their lifetime of 10 to 12 years, that number is expected to keep on rising.
The mama elk here in the Rim Country area give birth to one and sometimes two calves in late May or in June. Like their deer relatives, the elk babies are just about the cutest little things you’ll ever see, with their camouflaging white spots and sweet, mewing sound.
It takes only about 20 minutes after birth before newborn elk can stand and start stumbling around on their own. If you see a spotted calf bedded down by itself, be assured that it hasn’t been abandoned by its mother. The cow is just briefly off by itself, but nearby, foraging for food and will soon return.
I’ve recently observed very large herds of cows and their calves in both Payson and Pine, with the herds being very different in personality.
The Payson herd numbers about 60-80 cows, with about half to two-thirds of the females having a calf (or two) by their sides. Many of the rest will give birth soon. The herd spends many evening hours at the Payson Golf Club, enjoying the cool grass and clover, then exits to the south wilderness just before the sun comes up. The cows don’t seem to like humans, or at least my presence, anyway.
In Pine, I’ve seen cows and newborns all over town. One Pine resident shared with me that there are three large herds in the community — a south herd, middle-of-town herd and a north herd. But unlike the skittish herd in Payson, these Pine females and little ones seem to feel very comfortable with the presence of humans, even mine. I’ve observed and photographed all three — grazing in fields, hoofing it along highways and playing in residents’ yards.
But always remember, as cute as the moms and babies are, these are wild animals. And like all moms, elk cows are very protective of their little ones, have sharp hooves and can trample a human within seconds.
Please keep your distance.