Sometimes words simply fail. Missouri Conservation Commission Chairman Becky Plattner was struck speechless the morning of May 5 as she stood in the blue dawn light atop a remote ridge in Carter County. She was listening to sharp snorts and muted barks coming from a stock trailer holding 34 elk. Overwhelmed by emotion after opening the trailer door, she turned to Conservation Commissioner Chip McGeehan and placed her hand over her heart in a gesture of awe.
McGeehan joined Conservation Department biologists wielding plywood shields as they herded the elk from the trailer and through a series of gates to sort them into holding pens. When he glanced up at Plattner, she teased “Why are your eyes so big, Chip?”
“We’re making history,” he replied.
McGeehan was referring to the return of wild elk to Missouri after an absence of 150 years. The elk began their odyssey in January, when they were captured by MDC staff in cooperation with biologists from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Three months later, with the requirements of stringent veterinary-health protocols met, the elk made a 12-hour trip, arriving at Peck Ranch Conservation Area shortly after 6:30 a.m. The timing was critical to keep the animals cool and minimize stress.
Plattner and McGeehan joined officials of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and MDC staff directly involved in the elk-restoration effort for the elk’s arrival. They watched as MDC staff guided six bull elk and 28 cows and calves into separate holding pens.
“Who would have thought 30 years ago that we would be standing here this morning watching elk return to Missouri?” MDC Director Bob Ziehmer mused the morning of the arrival of the elk. “This amazing event is a continuation of the Conservation legacy that Missouri citizens created and continue to support today”
Ziehmer said the return of elk to Missouri marks a new era in the Show-Me State’s conservation history. The fact that Missouri now has appropriate habitat for elk is tangible proof that long-term, landscape-scale habitat conservation and restoration efforts are coming to fruition.
“When I saw those animals come off the trailer it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” said RMEF Missouri State Chairman Dave Pace. “Seeing these animals come back, so generations and generations of Missourians will get to see them, is a very momentous occasion. This is a great day for