The country’s only pair of Eurasian Elk are united as Wildwood Trust, the conservation charity behind the bison rewilding project, builds on its work to help combat climate change.
The leading British conservation charity behind the globally acclaimed project to introduce bison into the wild have high hopes for a new pair of ‘ecosystem engineers’.
Wildwood Trust has just united the only pair of Elk in the country. Caramel, who is already a firm favourite at the Kent Wildlife Park, is now sharing an enclosure with new resident bull Elk Jurgeon.
The move follows the charity’s groundbreaking work on the Wilder Blean project – a joint venture with Kent Wildlife Trust – to release bison into the wild to boost biodiversity and encourage habitat restoration.
The charity hopes that the Elk, which are the largest members of the deer family and are currently extinct in the UK, will be able to have a similarly positive impact on shaping the local landscape and influencing the natural regeneration of shrubs and trees.
Mark Habben is Wildwood’s Director of Zoological Operations:
“This is an incredibly exciting first step and a natural progression from the work we’ve been doing with the bison in Blean Woods to help combat climate change.
“In the same way that the bison are helping to restore ancient woodland, we believe that Elk could have an equally beneficial impact on wetland environments.
“The calves that this pair will hopefully breed could in turn go on to directly benefit future habitat restoration projects.”
As a result of their introduction, the elk pair are now able to access the top forest paddocks at Wildwood’s Kent park, just outside Canterbury. Prior to this, they were kept in separate enclosures until keepers at the park were confident that they were ready to be united, as keeper, Jon Forde, explains:
“The introduction has gone well, as we hoped it would. Caramel, who’s been with us since 2013, was slightly wary at first but is adjusting well.
“We were hopeful that the pair would get on as we’d started to notice when we came to see them in the mornings that they’d moved closer to each other overnight and they have a lovely way of chatting.
“We can’t wait for our visitors and loyal supporters to come and see them together.”
All about the Elk:
- The elk is a major ecosystem engineer, which influences the natural regeneration of shrubs and trees.
- They are known to eat up to 20kg of food a day and their stomachs can weigh as much as 65kg.
- They have long legs, a short tail and humped shoulders. A skin fold under their chin known as a dewlap/bell, combined with their overhanging muzzle, makes them easily recognisable.
- Females are called ‘cows’ and don’t have antlers. Males are called ‘bulls’ and have antlers that can span up to two metres across.
- Elk are found in a range of woodland habitats in cooler climates. Preferable habitats are those that provide patchy mosaics of forest, swamps, lakes and wetlands.
- Elk are most active at dawn and dusk, and feed on a variety of trees, shrubs and herbs, as well as twigs and bark in the winter.
- Closely related to the North American moose, Elk became extinct in Britain around 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. Over-hunting across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries caused substantial population declines and range loss, but the Eurasian elk survived to be the largest living deer now in existence.
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About Wildwood Trust
Wildwood is an international centre of excellence for the conservation of British Wildlife. Since 1999, we’ve been devoted to protecting, conserving and rewilding the UK. Our purpose is to give native species a future.
Thanks to the generous support of our members and visitors, we are proud to have led a multitude of nationally significant conservation projects – but that’s just the beginning. We made a promise to do all that we can to save our native wildlife, and we intend to keep it. We can only do this with your help.