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bitmasher's picture
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Idaho Train Collision Kills 58 Deer

This stumbled on to an interesting point, that I hadn't previously thought much about. I suspect elk will migrate when their herd size (or weather) causes the need to seek new feeding ground. If there not pushed to find food, I suspect they don't move. While lots of elk migrate, elk in some regions do not.

In regions where elk migrate they will do it with regularity that would do a salmon proud like others have said above. However I assumed that these paths were more about working directions of least resistance (between two or more historically good feeding areas) as opposed to an ingrained need in the elks brain to see specific landmarks and go the exact same path year after year.

That is why I was shocked to see the suggestion that the elk drowning was a result of the elk being "hardwired" to hold a straight and narrow path. The fact that some elk do not migrate suggests, to me at least, that they only require general directions, not a hard and fast path (like bees between a hive and a food source).

Presumably some elk know to go around, otherwise this group would have all died some years ago in one mass event. Although, perhaps I'm giving them too much credit considering the species at large can be fooled by decoys. (Of course select groups of hunters can't either for that matter).

Where these elk are going into the abyss, is it a huge wide opening on to the lake where it would take a few miles to go around or are we talking about a cove or corner of the lake, where a detour is not that much out of the way?

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Idaho Train Collision Kills 58 Deer

Here you go bit here is this mornings print.
It has a picture of this section where for some reason this year they want to cross.
Its weird, it doesn’t seem to be just a few 100's seem to be trying to cross at this same point like lemmings to a cliff.
My point is just a friend pointed out, if this was not in a place that we all could see it would just be seen as part of nature when the carcasses were found the next year
http://www.ktvb.com/news/topstories/ktvbn-jan1304-Lucky_Peak_elk_update....

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Idaho Train Collision Kills 58 Deer

Bitmasher has it exactly right. Yes, elk herds move from one region to another each year. Some of them even take the same general path each year. This is not, however, the same as the fixed, instinctive, movement from one area to another, using the same route each year, that is typical of, for instance, some bird species, whales, butterflys, etc.

Nonetheless, this kind of fixed and instinctive movement is obviously what was being referenced in the article. Here is a wildlife biologist's definition of "migration" that I found on the web:

"Migration is a behavior evolved to increase an individual's fitness. It is characterized by stereotyped leaving and arriving biology, including physiological and/or behavioral alterations. Typically, animal migration involves a round-trip journey, although the trip might be completed by an individual or by its descendents. This journey is characterized by directed movements, and migrants pass by potential suitable resources that would ordinarily be used during non-migrant phases."

Elk clearly do not fit this definition. Nor does their behavior fall into the kind of migration that would lead them to instinctively keep using the same route even though it had been blocked by a lake.

The word "migration" is used in a lot of ways by different people. Sometimes it is used to refer to a group of animals randomly moving from one area to another. This causes a lot of confusion when people talke about migration. Nonetheless, the type of repetitive migratory behavior that the article was referring to is not something that elk do.

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Idaho Train Collision Kills 58 Deer

True some elk in certain areas do not migrate but I think that a blanket saying elk don't migrate is off.

Just for arguements sake lets breakdown your definition of migration Don.

"Migration is a behavior evolved to increase an individual's fitness." Cerainly these are elk are moving from one region to another to survive. So I'd say they fit the bill here.

"It is characterized by stereotyped leaving and arriving biology, including physiological and/or behavioral alterations." Ok there may not be a whole lot of biological stuff happening, a longer winter coat though is grown and does still count. Do hormones change? I don't know that. However I do think there is a big behavioral difference. 1. The elk herd up. Usually much larger than thier summer and fall herds. 2. They begin to travel long distances with the purpose of dropping in elevation and going to a annual winter range. 3. They become much less wary about hiding from predators and much more concerned about finding food. 4. Elk look for different types of food. This then makes elk fit this part of the definition.

"Typically, animal migration involves a round-trip journey, although the trip might be completed by an individual or by its descendents." Well winter range to summer and back and forth certainly makes this a round trip journey.

"This journey is characterized by directed movements, and migrants pass by potential suitable resources that would ordinarily be used during non-migrant phases." Direct movements definitely. They walk many miles and is a direct movement to migrate. They pass by many suitable food and water sources.

Well thats every part of the "scientific" definition that they do in fact fit. I would say they migrate by any definition.

[ This Message was edited by: rather_be_huntin on 2004-01-14 09:54 ]

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Idaho Train Collision Kills 58 Deer

Don’t forget not only do they grow a longer coat but also the bulls go through a process of decalcification” don’t think that’s the right word but that’s the point and to make a long story short” they loss of their antlers, all the while the cow population in in the process of growing the calf that is inside them, ask any female what kind of biological changes that contains LMAO

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Idaho Train Collision Kills 58 Deer

That's a good link Capt. One of the quotes:

"We have had small groups of elk go through the ice in years past, but never anything in this order of magnitude," said Evin Oneale with Idaho Fish and Game.

Fish and game is out every night, using special shotgun shells to scare the animals back into the hills. And for the first time, the efforts kept more elk from dying on the ice.

"These are the hills the elk are coming over, but biologists say normally the elk winter much further back closer to Twin Springs and don't typically migrate this far," said Oneale. "So we are all scratching our heads to try find out what is motivating these animals to move down country in the numbers we are seeing this year."

So much for the "ancient migratory trail".

Here are links to the pics:
pic 1
pic 2

The picture is good, because it shows uncovered frozen ice where the elk are going in, not ice that is covered deeply by snow. I had this vision that the ice was deeply covered making it easier for the elk to mistake what they were walking on.

Perhaps most elk follow trail breaker elk by scent that lingers for a few days. Meaning they can smell a faint odor that says to them "elk went here, I'll follow them"... The trail breaker elk are bold and just charge off where they think the winter/summer range is (regardless of scent), in this case the trail breaker made a bad choice.

My two cent theory....

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Idaho Train Collision Kills 58 Deer

Had coffee this morning with a family friend who just happens to be a biologist from that area.
What he said was
While elk are not a migratory animal in the since of say the wildebeest in Africa or what the bison of the old US were,
They are however more migratory then say a white tail deer, mule deer or moose.
Elk seasonally migrate to different locations as I stated before, spring to calving grounds, and fall to breeding ground and winter to the wintering ground.
What he told me is while they don’t migrate to a central location like the wildebeests, thus “elk from all over North America traveling to say Montana” they do migrate.
He also stated that studies have found that a lead heard cow would migrate to all of the 3 different areas within 15 to 20 days of the same date every year. They will also use the same route every year if not the very same trail. It seems if she is forced not to use that route for some reason, another will be founds close by and she will continue along her way.
This dose not hold true for every member of the heard. If you take a younger cow or bull and drop them off in a different area they will still travel lower looking for a new herd and will then move to that herds wintering area, not return to their old herd.
Here is a clincher though from what he told me.
The have taken lead cows and transplanted them to areas with in 100 to 200 miles of their old herd. It seems if that cow makes it to become the lead cow of the new herd she will sometimes bring that herd to the grounds of her old herd.
The cow that takes her place in her old herd will then lead that herd to the same wintering ground along much the same route. I however only seems to be the dominant female of the herd that dose this and dosnt seem to change much with a new female leading.
They are kind of complex creatures and not everything is known about why and how the chose a particular place to winter, calve, or breed only that each area herd will congregate in those same places year after year some even travel hundreds of miles to reach places like Jackson hole in WY
We are not talking herds of 10 or 15 but whole regions moving to within miles of each other.
Kind of interesting
here is the lates as of this morning
http://www.ktvb.com/news/topstories/ktvbn-jan1504-elk_pipe.1c3334f1.html

[ This Message was edited by: captchee on 2004-01-15 21:48 ]

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Idaho Train Collision Kills 58 Deer

The have taken lead cows and transplanted them to areas with in 100 to 200 miles of their old herd. It seems if that cow makes it to become the lead cow of the new herd she will sometimes bring that herd to the grounds of her old herd.

If this is true that is the best evidence yet that I've heard that elk migrate on set courses because of their conditioning, rather than some general random walk from winter <-> summer food source.

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