BEEVILLE — It turns out that the elk roaming the countryside near the Medio Creek north of Beeville are not a new phenomenon.
Baldemar Galvan Jr. said that elk have been sighted along the creek near Charco Road since the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
Galvan, who lives in that area, roams the creek sometimes and has encountered other unusual creatures in the area, said he has seen them a number of times.
No one knows where the large, deerlike animals came from or how they got there. But at least four north Bee County residents have encountered them.
Beeville Police Department Robert J. Bridge reported recently that he had seen them. His cousin, City of Beeville Director of Public Works Albert Bridge, also had seen them.
Albert Bridge said the elk he saw was along that road near the creek.
Robert Bridge and his wife saw them farther south of there in a pasture north of Charco Road.
“We’ve been seeing them since at least the early ’90s,” Galvan said.
On one occasion, Galvan said he followed at least one elk for a while before he lost track of the animal.
Exotics found out west
Apparently no one around here has any idea how the elk got to Bee County. Robert Bridge said he thinks they could have escaped from a ranch where animals considered “exotic” were once kept.
According to an internet site on the different species of animals found in this state, in 1988 it was determined that 67 species of “exotic” animals were living in Texas.
The site reported in that year that approximately 164,257 exotic animals were in the state, either confined or free ranging.
Those conducting the study reported that the animals were located in the Edwards Plateau and South Texas Plains.
That figure did not include feral hogs.
The site reported that elk are only native to a small area in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas.
However, several ranches in other parts of the state have stocked elk and offer elk hunts for a price.
When Chief Bridge and his wife spotted the cow elk in the open and they noticed other elk in the background, peeking over a high spot in the terrain.
An article offered on the internet by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department said this about the elk in Texas:
Elk are large, deerlike herbivores. Male elk have large, usually six-pointed antlers that are shed each year. The hair on their neck is long and shaggy. Their fur is light brown and darker on their head, neck, legs and belly. Elk have a large, white rump patch.
Elk are social animals. The herd is customarily in charge of a female elk (cow) who leads them to water and to feeding grounds. The females also stand guard over the herd at night, during afternoon resting times, and when feeding.
On sensing danger, the sentinel or any other cow gives warning by a sudden, loud “bark” that instantly alerts the entire herd. Although elk have excellent senses of sight and hearing, they mostly depend on their sense of smell to detect danger.
They have three kinds of calls. One is the bark that they use to warn others of danger. Another call is the bugling of the bull during breeding season.
The third call is the bleating of young elk calves and yearlings. An elk’s antlers are usually shed in late winter and throughout the spring. New antlers begin to grow again when their scars have healed. Some elks’ antlers can weigh over 30-40 pounds!
Elk are both grazers and browsers. In the summer throughout their range in the West, their diet consists of shrubs, trees and grasses such as willow, maple and rye grass.
In Texas, they eat desert plants like agaves, as well as various species of grasses. Bugling marks the beginning of the breeding season.
It usually starts in late summer and lasts through November. At the beginning of the breeding season, adult bulls are very fat, but by the end, they are emaciated due to their almost non-stop efforts to keep younger bulls away from their females.
Baby elk are born in May and June, usually with just one per female. Calves are reddish-brown and spotted with white.
At first, calves are helpless and must remain hidden. But by the time they are about two weeks old, they are able to follow their mothers and rejoin the main herd. They can exist solely on plants by the time they are two or three months old.
Elk once inhabited the plains region of the western United States in winter, migrating to more open, forested areas in summer. Now, because of human land use practices, they have been forced into year-long habitation in mountains.
Historical evidence indicates that elk may have been present over much of Texas. By the late 1800s, records indicate that elk were only present in the Guadalupe Mountains of far western Texas. Currently, free ranging elk exist over a large portion of West Texas and on high-fenced ranches throughout the state.
Chief Bridge said the size of the animals he saw and the white patch on the rump of the female he could clearly see convinced him that the small herd he saw was elk.
Bridge and his wife, Bee County Tax Assessor-Collector Linda Bridge, have traveled in Colorado and other states where elk are commonly seen roaming freely. He said he and his wife have seen plenty of elk in Colorado.
Anyone who thinks it might be a good idea to hunt an elk in Bee County might want to reconsider.
According to the TPWD, the only place in this state where one can legally hunt and kill elk is in West Texas.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.