More than 150 elks are suspected to have died because of drought linked to the climate crisis in California as activists fear more animals will be at risk this summer due to soaring temperatures.
Some 152 Tule Elks died in 2020 in a fenced-in reserve at the Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco.
The National Park Service (NPS) reported that drought-like conditions dried out vegetation and led to a lack of food supply for the rare species.
Both NPS and California Department of Fish and Wildlife say the elk deaths are drought-related but that there is no evidence the animals died from dehydration or lack of water.
Animal rights activists claim the elk died because they were kept in a fenced area and prevented from roaming to other land to find food.
Fleur Dawes, from In Defense of Animals, told KRON: “This is a very rare animal. These are rare, native, endemic to California. Tule elk. They are a symbol of this area. Yet right behind this fence, 152 animals were allowed to die during a drought.”
She added: “This is a national park area, wild animals are supposed to be protected here but instead they are dying.”
According to NPS, the decline in elks is part of a normal fluctuation in numbers.
“This population, which has been here since 1978, for the last 25 years has been going up and down, up and down,” Melanie Gunn, a park official from Point Reyes National Seashore, told KGO.
The NPS said the fence, which was erected to separate the elk from cattle, will only be taken down if ranching activity ends in the area.
California suffered extreme drought conditions in 2020 due to scarcity of rainfall and dangerously high temperatures. The state’s reservoirs are currently about half empty.
Southern California has warmed about three degrees Fahrenheit (F) in the past 100 years. The entire state is becoming hotter, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, due to manmade emissions increasing global heating.
The climate crisis is driving more intense droughts, wildfires and weather conditions in the state.
The Tule Elk herd at Point Reyes is considered the largest remaining population in the world. Between 2012 and 2015, deaths of more than 250 of the species have been linked to droughts.