Survival and cause-specific mortality of elk (Cervus canadensis) in Kentucky, USA

19 November 2018

Slabach, Brittany; Hast, John; Murphy, Sean; Bowling, Willie; Crank, R. ; Jenkins, Gabe; Johannsen, Kristina; Cox, John

Wildlife management relies heavily on high quality field data to analyze and predictively model animal population dynamics, evaluate population viability, and ultimately inform management decisions. During 2011–2015, we conducted a study to investigate survival and cause-specific mortality of male and female elk (Cervus canadensis) in a harvested population in southeastern Kentucky, USA, which was established via reintroduction a decade prior. Preliminary male elk survival data led state wildlife managers to modify hunting zone boundaries and establish several areas with limited hunter access mid-way (2013) through our study to attempt to improve male survival and prevent overharvest. Thus, we also investigated the effectiveness of limiting hunter access for improving male elk survival in one of these regulated areas. We captured and radio-monitored 237 (F91:M146) elk, of which 155 (65.4%) died by the conclusion of our study; harvest-related deaths were the leading causes of mortality for both sexes (85.2%; 132/155). Estimated mean annual female and male survival rates were 0.67 (95% CI = 0.53–0.81) and 0.57 (95% CI = 0.45–0.71), respectively. Results from Cox proportional hazards regression models indicated that females