Elk spotted on trail camera in Topeka city limits [Topeka Capital Journal (KS)]
(Topeka Capital Journal (KS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Once a week for the past two years, retired Topeka resident Dan Byl, 63, has made the trek down a steep hill in his backyard near N.W. MacVicar and Interstate 70 to check his trail camera.
The area, a veritable haven for wildlife, has produced many memorable images -- white-tailed deer fawns being nursed by their mother, a fox standing stoically on a large rock, a coyote walking through deep snow. However, one day this month -- Oct. 7 -- produced a pair of images that he won't soon forget.
While going through his memory card on his computer, something unusual stood out to him. No, it wasn't the nice buck grazing on forage or the neighborhood children who stopped to pose for the camera. Two images -- taken 80 seconds apart -- of a large, oddly colored, antlered animal drew his attention.
At first, he jokingly told people he had an elk in his backyard. Surely, it couldn't have been an elk. The nearest elk herd was 60 miles away at Fort Riley.
"I thought it was just a big buck," Byl said. "I have a list of people that I send pictures to, so I sent out the pictures and sent a message along with it saying 'I've got an elk, haha, just kidding.' And then when I stopped and took another look and looked at those black legs and that black neck and the size of those antlers, I said 'It has to be an elk.' "
After sending the photographs to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Region 2 office at 300 S.W. Wanamaker, he learned he had captured images of a bull elk.
"I was just astounded," Byl said. "I have often thought maybe the most fantastic thing that I'd ever see here would be maybe a mountain lion, but it never, never occurred to me that there would ever be an elk pass through here."
The KDWPT office confirmed the animal was an elk and a second sighting also had occurred in the same area. Tracks were also found.
Roger Wolfe, regional wildlife supervisor, said this is only the second time in his 20 years working at the KDWPT Region 2 office he can recall a case where an elk was spotted in Topeka with evidence to back up the claim.
"Usually I think what you typically see are younger bulls, they get run off by the mature bulls in the herd, so they go out looking for, you know, this time of the year is during the rut, during breeding season," Wolfe said, "so what happens oftentimes is we see them show up in domestic elk pens, which is not a good thing necessarily."
According to Matt Peek, a furbearer research biologist and elk program coordinator for the KDWPT in Emporia, the state elk population is now up to about 300 to 350, with some movement back and forth between Oklahoma, Colorado and southwest Kansas. He said the last known elk to reach Topeka was in 2001.
"Elk are capable of moving long ways," Peek said. "As long as we've had elk, they've been known for showing up a long way from where they're known to be. It's probably happened more frequently in the past 10 years."
Wolfe said he believes this particular elk was probably run off from the herd in Fort Riley -- which Peek estimated to have a population of about 200 -- and followed the river to Byl's backyard. He said the elk also may have been domestically raised and had escaped.
Because of the risk of disease, Wolfe said the KDWPT would euthanize a wild elk in this area if it was found. He said the department preferred if a hunter were to take the animal. Statewide elk hunting permits outside of Fort Riley are available through the KDWPT, with archery season running until Dec. 31 and firearm season from Dec. 4-15 and Jan. 1-March 15, 2014.
"The risk in doing that is that you buy the elk tag today and the elk is gone tomorrow," Wolfe said. "They don't necessarily hang very long oftentimes. They're out looking for cows (female elk) this time of year. It's pretty unusual for them to hang very long in one place unless there's some attraction there."
Wolfe said this was the third recent sighting in the region, with bulls also found in Osage City and Clay County. He said the other two had been killed.
Because Byl's camera was located inside Topeka city limits, he wouldn't have been able to shoot the elk. Still, the thrill of knowing something so rare happened in his backyard was enough excitement for him.
"I think it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," Byl said. "I don't think I'll ever see an elk come through here again."
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