The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says elk sightings are becoming more common in Iowa as the number of trail and outdoor cameras has increased.

The DNR’s Tyler Harms says the source of the elk is not as certain as it used to be. “You know, we’d always presume that they were coming from western states, largely, because a lot of the reports that we typically get every year are in the western part of Iowa,” Harms says. But he says the wildlife bureau has started to collect tissue and fecal samples from the animals to conduct some genetic analysis to determine where they might be coming from.

An elk was hit and killed on I-80 this fall and another was found dead within sight of Highway 20, east of Sioux City. The Woodbury County elk was a 1 to 1-1/2-year-old adolescent animal weighing approximately 450-500 pounds. Harms says the size is the key thing that makes them different from deer.

“We’re talking an adult elk can be 750 to 800 pounds. Whereas, you know, a mature adult whitetail buck will be in the ballpark of 200 to 250 pounds. So drastic size difference,” Harms says. Elk were native to Iowa, but left as the state was settled. Harms says there isn’t a concern the elk will cause issues with the deer population.

“One of the diseases that we talk about frequently with white-tailed deer in Iowa is chronic wasting disease. And elk are susceptible to chronic wasting disease as well,” Harms says, “but there’s some research that shows that elk are actually contracting a different strain of CWD than what we typically see in our white tailed deer. And so, there’s really no concern at this point.”

Though sightings are up in the fall, elk numbers are still low in Iowa, and multiple sightings are likely due to one animal traveling a great distance. Harms says there’s one thing to do if you see an elk.”Sit back and enjoy it is what I would recommend. You know, it’s a really neat opportunity to be able to see one of these animals,” he says.

Harms says there are some rare cases when an elk may damage fences or create other issues. “You can contact us and we can we can determine the best course of action for that situation. But if they’re not causing any problems, and are just simply passing through the area, we’re gonna let them let them be. Hopefully, folks will enjoy seeing them,” Harms says. Elk and moose are protected in Iowa Code and you can be fined for illegally killing them.