Tule elk in San Luis Obispo County are growing in population — to more than 800 this year from about 500 in 2014.
With mating season approaching, that means wildlife viewers will have a greater chance of hearing bulls bugling and waging violent battles over cows during rut season, when males show their competitive nature. The rut starts in late August and tapers off in October, according to Joe Hobbs, senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Tule elk have made a dramatic recovery,” said Hobbs, who’s responsible for managing the species’ conservation across the state.
Also known as dwarf elk, the species that historically inhabited much of the Central Valley was nearly driven to extinction by hunting and habitat loss. California had about 500 elk in the 1970s. Thanks to recovery efforts, including releases into the Carrizo Plain National Monument in eastern San Luis Obispo County, the statewide population is now about 5,100, Hobbs said.
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Similar to elephant seals, elk bulls fight each other to build harems of cows for breeding. Clashes between bulls, which can weigh up to 700 pounds, can result in broken antlers, bloody gashes and occasionally even death.
They can be seen roaming in groups between southern Kern County up to Mendocino County. In the Central Coast, they’re most likely found in the eastern San Luis Obispo County in the Carrizo Plain, La Panza and Chimineas Ranch Ecological Reserve near Highway 166.