Elk brought in by train from Yellowstone National Park helped re-establish the Arizona populations after the state’s native elk became extinct around 1900.
They’re now too close to the Grand Canyon’s most popular areas for comfort. Last summer, a tourist standing too close to an elk was scratched in the eye by its antlers.
Officials say it would be best to replace lawns with native vegetation that’s abundant throughout the park, so that the elk don’t necessarily prefer the tourist-heavy areas to other spots. They’re also considering using excess water from the treatment facility to expand the park’s nursery instead of letting elk drink it as it flows over the landscape.
At the local school, students and staff constantly are reminded to shut the gates of the fence around the recreational field to keep elk off the grass and away from children, though the animals have gone under and over the fence.
Grand Canyon residents are told not to put animal feed, water buckets or bird feeders outside so that elk aren’t tempted to wander around homes.
More than half of the 91 elk-related calls that the wildlife program has responded to since fall 2008 were over elk and people mingling in the same areas, or approaching one another, said Grand Canyon wildlife biologist Brandon Holton.
Even when visitors follow the guidelines not to approach or feed elk, to flee when they’re acting aggressively and to avoid the animals’ territory, accidents still happen. In 2011, a park concessionaire employee was gored in the back by an elk while she was on the sidewalk one of the hotels.
“They’ve completely lost their fear of humans,” Holton said.