SEATTLE - An elk that was habituated to humans at a young age has been transported to her new home at Woodland Park Zoo after she failed to join a wild herd.
Zoo officials said the elk, Buttons, was habituated to humans from a young age and was a frequent visitor to rural homes in the Cle Elum community where she achieved celebrity status.
“People petted her, hand fed her, put children on her back,” said Scott McCorquodale, regional wildlife program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
WDFW said the results of taming Buttons were “far from good for the elk or for the public.”
WDFW immobilized Buttons and move her to the Mellote Feeding station near Selah on Feb. 1 after receiving reports of damaged property, signs of aggression toward people and pets and a garden hose wrapped around the animal’s neck.
WDFW officials said they hoped Buttons would integrate with the wild herd near Selah but after five weeks she continued to gravitate toward human settlements.
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McCorquodale explained that Buttons’ human habituation is not uncommon.
“Each spring, the department works to make sure people leave fawns, elk calves and other wildlife alone if found in the wild,” McCorquodale said.
McCorquodale said anyone who comes across an animal that appears orphaned they should refrain from taming and instead call a regional WDFW office or a licensed wildlife rehabilitation expert. Click here to read more.
WDFW said it’s very hard to find a place that will take a tamed elk but Buttons will have a new home, thanks to the Woodland Park Zoo were there currently is a herd of elk made up of two females and one male.
“We were so lucky to benefit from the goodwill of Woodland Park Zoo,” said McCorquodale. “It is exceedingly rare that we would be able to find a place for a habituated deer or elk. Organizations we called rejected our offer, and placing a tame elk at a zoo is simply not an option in the vast majority of cases.”
Jennifer Pramuk, an animal curator at Woodland Park Zoo, said introductions for new animals is a careful process.
“As with all introductions, we will follow the cues of Buttons and the other elk,” said Pramuk. “Our animal care staff is very experienced so we’re hopeful we can socially integrate Buttons with our herd,” she added.
“I know this elk will get great care at Woodland Park Zoo, and she will live with a small number of her own kind, said McCorquodale. “Beyond that one bit of good, I hope her story results in more commitment for people not to let this happen again.”
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