A new study suggests female elk in southeast BC and southwest Alberta have learned to outsmart hunters.
The University of Alberta’s Mark Boyce says the highlight of the research relates to how the animals learn to avoid their main predators as they get older.
Boyce, who is a professor of ecology, explains elk who are more bold almost always get killed, while the ones who learn to be shy and clever become bulletproof by the age of 10.
The biologist explains precautions researchers found the animals took were reducing their movements and trying to stick to “secure areas” like forest and steep terrain.
He adds male elk mostly don’t live past five years of age because they are main targets for hunters, whereas females have more time to develop safe behavior.
The study started in 2007 and captured and collared female elks with GPS radio collars.
The 46,000 km2 area, all in Alberta, was chosen because human hunting there is “by a wide margin the largest source of elk mortality” and hunting was allowed in most of the region.
However Boyce says despite doing all the research in Alberta, the animals were in both provinces.
Boyce says the learning behavior they’ve documented is important because it ensures the resilience and viability of harvested animal populations.
He explains it means there’s turnover among the younger age classes but there’s always older animals who know the landscape – they know where and when to go.
He adds this also ensures demographic resilience, which means even if there is a very heavy harvest there’s still a good section of the herd producing calfs and keeping the population going.
– University of Alberta Professor Mark Boyce