More than 150 years ago, North American elk roamed the Ozark hills of Adair and Cherokee counties.
Tuesday afternoon, twenty of the majestic creatures are back in the eastern Oklahoma hills, five males, and fifteen females. The herd traveled several hours from a ranch in Blaine County to their new home at the Oklahoma Nature Conservancyâ€™s Nickel Preserve near Braggs.
News on 6 anchor Tami Marler says some White Tail deer don't know it, but they have some new neighbors. They'll soon be sharing the 15,000 acre Nickel Preserve.
John Nickel: "I feel like a brand new dad here because this is a project I've been looking forward to for so long. Ever since I donated the preserve to the Nature Conservancy, I've been pushing for this moment." John Nickel is excited to see a native animal brought back to his family's land, after being hunted-out more than 150 years ago. He wanted to be here when the Nature Conservancy made it happen.
Chris Wilson with the Nature Conservancy: "Well the Nature Conservancy is going to be reintroducing elk to the Nickel Preserve. We'll be bringing in about 20 animals that'll be kept in a 10-acre enclosure for about 3 weeks, and then they'll be free to roam the hills of the Ozarks here."
The highly anticipated arrival took a lot of preparation. An 18-month feasibility study determined elk could still survive on the Nickel Preserve. John Nickel: "I told Chris, the director here, to hurry up, because I didn't want to leave this earth before he got the elk up here."
The Nature Conservancy has worked to restore the original Ozark ecosystem, to make sure the land is just right for the elk to return. It's a moment they've waited a long time to see. The elk will be wearing radio-operated tracking devices.
Preserve staff will check their locations twice a week. It is illegal to hunt elk in Adair and Cherokee counties, so expect to enjoy a growing herd.