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Elk herd, longtime area residents

One of the 13 elk living in Elk Grove. (Heather Leszczewicz/TribLocal)

One of the 13 elk living in Elk Grove. (Heather Leszczewicz/TribLocal)

The northwest corner of Higgins and Arlington Heights may look like an empty, fenced-in field most of the time, but, yes, there are elk in Elk Grove Village.

Thirteen elk live and graze in the pasture, which is part of Busse Woods and under the supervision of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

“It’s a nice amenity for Elk Grove,” said Dave Parulo, president of the Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau. “It’s one of my top 25 things to do and see in the region.”

(Photos: The elk of Elk Grove)

As warmer weather arrives, more people will head to the woods to see the elk and with them, and the heat, come some of the worst threats to the herd.

The public is asked not to feed the elk, who live off the pasture in their enclosure. (Heather Leszczewicz/TribLocal)

One of the biggest problems is people feeding the elk, said Chris Anchor, wildlife biologist for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. On the fence surrounding the pasture, there are signs every few feet stating “Please Do Not Feed the Elk.”

“People want to feed them,” Anchor said. “We pick up loaves of bread and sweet breads. Elk love that kind of stuff, but it causes a huge problem with their stomach.”

Anchor said they keep the herd at its current size so there’s enough food in the pasture to support it. The herd is monitored daily by forest preserve personnel and are under the care of Brookfield Zoo veterinarians.

While the animals are accustomed to extreme cold temperatures, they have a harder time with summer temperatures.

“In the summer time, they’re in mud wallows, lying down in them to keep away from bugs. People will misinterpret and think they’re stuck in the mud,” Anchor said, but added they are just cooling off. “They are very large animals and it’s hard dissipating the heat.”

But encounters with the public aren’t always just a danger for the elk.

The other problem Anchor said they encounter is people releasing dogs into the enclosure.

“Some people think it might be entertaining to see dogs chase elk. Elk never run from dogs,” he said. “The dogs end up getting killed.”

The first elk came to the district in 1925 from Yellowstone National Park in Montana, according to the forest preserve.

An article in the Feb. 25, 1925, issue of the Cook County Herald recounted the arrival of the elk by train. “Possibly the largest crowd ever assembled watched the unloading of the elk and a much larger crowd watched the opening of each crate.”

The article gives credit to the Cook County commissioners and William Busse for bringing the first herd of 10 elk to the village. Over the years, the elk population has fluctuated, reaching as high as 80.

“Since the ‘80s the herd, at the most, was the in low 30s and now between six and 15,” Anchor said. “Every three to four years, we bring in a new bull so we don’t have inbreeding problems.”

The best time to see the herd is early morning or at dusk, just before closing. The rest of the time the herd sticks to the tree line, though there is a trail that weaves around the back of the enclosure that allows for elk viewing at other times of the day.

Seasonally, there are two periods that Anchor said can be quite entertaining for visitors. Late-May to early-June is calving season. Anchor said two to four calves are expected this year. October to mid-November is rutting season, when the males fight over the females.

For information, visit Parking by the pasture is off of Arlington Heights and Bennett roads. The public can also get to the enclosure via the Busse Woods Bicycle Trail.

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