The Restoration of Elk (Cervus elaphus) in Ontario, Canada: 1998–2005


Address correspondence to R. Rosatte, email


In 1997, a plan to restore Elk (Cervus elaphus) to Ontario was approved by the provincial government. The objective of the Ontario elk restoration program, a multipartnered collaboration, was to restore a species that had been extirpated from the province during the 1800s. During 1998–2001, 460 elk were acquired from Elk Island National Park, Alberta, for release in four areas of Ontario. As greater than 90% of the elk were radio collared, monitoring provided detailed information on the dynamics of the four populations. Comprehensive research projects using graduate students were implemented to determine the environmental impact of releasing elk in Ontario. Those studies are in progress or have been completed and include the effect of wolf predation on restored elk, white-tailed deer and elk resource overlap, the development of genetic profiles for elk, and solutions for elk/human conflicts. Mortality of the released elk averaged 41% (190/460) during 1998–2004 with annual mortality generally declining over time in each release area. The primary causes of elk mortality included wolf predation (25% of mortalities), illegal shooting (13%), stress-related emaciation (13%) (partially due to the stress of relocation), bacterial infections (7%), and collisions with vehicles (6%). Productivity has been high in one of the release areas with 24–65% of the cows being observed with calves during late winter surveys. However, productivity has been low in two of the northern release areas due to a variety of factors including wolf predation. In some areas, dispersion of elk appeared to be related to the length of time animals were kept in pens prior to release. The precalving population estimate for Ontario in March 2004 was 375–440 elk. A comprehensive program review was conducted in 2003/2004 that included recommendations relating to the future management of elk in Ontario.