New study highlights declining elk numbers in Czechia

Eurasian elk

After years of a slow but gradual increase, the population of elks in the Czech Republic has started to decline. According to a new study, carried out by Czech scientists, together with their colleagues from Germany and Austria, the main factor behind the trend is landscape fragmentation and loss of habitat.

According to most recent data, there are only around ten to twenty elks currently living in the Czech Republic. Just a few years ago, their population was estimated to be twice as large.

Unlike most other deer species, elks are solitary animals which don’t form herds and it is impossible to establish their exact numbers.

Until recently, the largest elk population lived around the town of Třeboň, in South Bohemia, but the animals gradually migrated further south, towards Lipno Lake, not far from the German and Austrian borders.

That’s why Czech scientists teamed up with their colleagues from the two neighbouring countries. Together they have been monitoring elk populations living on the territory from the 1970s until today.

Based on these data, they want to predict the population’s future development and propose what measures should be taken for its protection.

They have also suggested locations where the large animals could possibly be reintroduced, including the whole of the Šumava National Park and Bavarian Forest.

The Eurasian elk lived on the territory of today’s Czech Republic until the late Middle Ages, until the 15th or 16th century, when it was driven to extinction, most likely by over-hunting.

After a long period of absence, it started to spontaneously return to the area in the 1950s. The animals migrated from southern Poland, and settled in several locations, says Tomáš Janík from Charles University’s Faculty of Life Sciences and head of the research team:

“The elks settled for instance around the towns of Nymburk and Tábor, but the most stable and long-term elk population was around Třeboň, where they remained until the 1990s.”

Due to the growing number of people, the animals were gradually pushed out of their territory, towards Lipno Lake. But most recently, their numbers started to dwindle even in that location:

“There have been some sightings over the past decade, mainly in the Třeboň region and in the south of the Šumava Mountains. But since 2012 or 2013, evidence of elks’ occurrence has been scarce. That’s why we are worried about the future of the animals.”

The Eurasian elk usually inhabits flat lowlands with marshes and swamps and alluvial forests, which can be found in Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and Poland.

The border region of the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany is slightly different, more hilly and forested, and it is one of the most southern habitats of elks in Europe.

Scientists from these three countries hope that their new study will contribute to a better protection of these rare animals.

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Ondřej Ševčík
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