GCNP — They are majestic looking creatures, stretching their necks and displaying their antlers, while bugling a distinctive call into the wild. Although it seems they may be showing off to residents and tourists, the elk are actually just getting a little romantic.
The bull elk can be a beautiful thing to see in Grand Canyon National Park, but officials ask people to keep their distance.
It's the fall rut season at Grand Canyon National Park as elk stake out their territory and prepare to mate. Although it can be an incredible sight, park officials caution observers of the animals.
"They start to get really aggressive this time of the year," said Elaine Leslie, wildlife biologist for GCNP. "They're beautiful and majestic, but just watch from a distance."
Leslie said there are at least six elk who have marked their territory in the Grand Canyon Village area. The usually-reclusive elk are spending more time in residential neighborhoods than usual, grazing while competing for cows.
The elk's appearance in the park relates to the area's recent drought as they look for grazing opportunities. As more rain falls and foliage appears, the animals should spread back out more, Leslie said.
Rangers periodically receive calls of elk showing up in residents' back yards. It's not uncommon for elk to experience some "aversive conditioning" as rangers attempt to move them along away from humans.
"You have the satellite bulls, like the one by the school yard," Leslie said. "They'll mark their territory and bring in the cows with the rut. You'll see them become aggressive."
The school yard elk made an appearance Thursday evening during the recreation center's championship softball game, strutting around just beyond the centerfield fence. The elk can often be heard bugling about the time of the evening.
The dangers should be obvious. The animals can weigh upwards of 700 pounds with sizeable racks, or antlers, that can weigh more than 30 pounds alone. A bull may gather a good number of cows into his harem during mating season, often clashing or locking antlers with another mature male for the privilege of dominating the herd group. That scenario happened recently in the Pines housing area.
There have been recorded incidents involving humans and elk, a few right here at Grand Canyon. There was a fatality, Leslie said, one year in Yellowstone National Park.
Leslie and other park officials are especially worried about children bothering the animals, such as the recent story of a couple of kids touching an animal's legs. Parents are asked to education their kids about keeping their distance.
"Especially for the kids, don't approach one," Leslie said. "Even though they look like a big, gentle creature, they're not."
The aversive conditioning involves rangers trying to scare the elk away through various methods, such as slinging beanbags at them. Leslie said they're made to feel uncomfortable around people to hopefully eliminate future clashes.
Elk are the second largest member of the deer family, only moose are larger. By mid-October, mating season ends and elk generally move to their winter ranges. Calves weighing 25-40 pounds are born in the spring.
Deer are also in their rut season, which lasts well into December and into January, Leslie said. Most of the year, deer appear to be gentle creatures while grazing around the park.
"Then all of a sudden, you'll see the deer become aggressive," Leslie said. "Big bulls you've never seen before are there."