TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - A state conservation worker captured photos of a large herd of elk crossing the Illinois River near Tahlequah Wednesday morning.

Trampas Tripp, a conservation planner for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, shared the photos on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Facebook page.

Tripp said he was out early in the morning to check some conservation work a land owner had done when he saw the elk.

"At first we thought people were floating the river already," he said. He and his colleague were surprised to see at least 20 elk crossing the river.

He said the elk probably came from the Nickel Nature Preserve which is located north of Tahlequah. 

"It's really good to see the elk thriving in this area." He said a lot of land owners report seeing elk along the Illinois River, but never in numbers like this.

Micah Holmes, Information and Education Supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said elk are living in pockets all around Oklahoma. He's thankful Tripp shared the photos.

"We always like to see pictures of animals," he said, "especially of animals people don't expect to see in the state." 

These elk are in velvet, Holmes said, which means their antlers are still growing. The antlers have been growing for about a month and will do so for another month, before falling off in the fall. 

He said elk are grazing animals, which means they're more likely to be spotted in pastures. Deer are browsing animals, which is why they usually stick to the woods.