Elk NetworkStudy Watches Elk, Cows from Space

General | April 15, 2021

New research shows elk generally avoid cattle, especially when it comes to finding a meal.

The study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) used satellite imagery to track cattle and tule elk alike within Point Reyes National Seashore, a protected swath of federally-managed land along the Pacific Ocean about 40 miles north of San Francisco.

“There were about 10 undergrads involved in the project, spotting cows from space — not your typical student research and always amusing to see in the lab,” said Douglas McCauley, ecologist and researcher.

“After about eight months, we ended up with more than 27,000 annotations of cattle across 31 images,” said Lacey Hughey, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute ecologist and former Ph.D. student at UCSB. “It took a long time.”

According to the study, researchers found elk tended to avoid areas where cattle graze. They choose habitat in a way “that reduce the potential for grazing conflicts with cattle, even in cases where access to forage is limited.”

A lack of interaction is a good thing since there is a possibility of transmitting Johne’s disease, a disease found in cattle and elk alike.

Go here to read the UCSB news release about the study.

(Photo image: UCSB)