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Elk in Virginia: Return of a Native Species

The eerie, whistling bugle of a bull elk echoes out across the mountainous landscape, and heads lift from the herd of elk grazing in a clearing. Elk were successfully re-introduced to Virginia between 2012 and 2014 and now there’s a thriving herd of more than 250 elk in Southwest Virginia, most of which are located in close proximity to the original restoration site in Buchanan County. The restoration work for elk, including substantial habitat management and efforts to provide wildlife viewing, offers a unique opportunity to enjoy this charismatic and majestic species.

Elk Habitat Restoration

The focus for elk habitat management in Virginia has been work on open land habitats created at restored former strip mine lands. This habitat work provides food resources and attractive habitat for not only the elk herd, but also various other wildlife resources.

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Between 2012 and 2014, a total of 71 adult elk and 4 calves (born during the restoration) were relocated into Buchanan County, Virginia, from southeast Kentucky. By September 2020, Virginia’s restored elk herd was estimated at more than 250 individuals.

The History of Elk in Virginia

Elk were historically found throughout eastern North America, including Virginia. However, by the late 1800s, unsustainable hunting and habitat alteration resulted in the extinction of the eastern elk. The last survivor of Virginia’s original elk herd was killed in 1855 in Clarke County.

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How to See Elk in Virginia

Nestled among the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau in Buchanan County, an elk viewing area with three wildlife viewing stations overlooks nearly 400 yards of restored grassland habitat, surrounded by woodland edges.

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Elk Cam

For those who cannot travel to the far reaches of Virginia, DWR has worked with sponsors to establish a live broadcast of some hotspots within the elk range.

Watch the Live Elk Cam

Protecting Virginia’s Elk

DWR’s Conservation Police Officers have added protecting the elk to their daily (and nightly) routines by monitoring suspicious activity, poaching, spotlighting, and engaging with the communities in southwest Virginia to ensure high-quality of life for the elk.

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Virginia’s Elk Management Plan

Since 2014, the elk population in Virginia has grown, and with this increase has come challenges and opportunities.

Learn How DWR is Managing Elk