SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – More elk have been visiting western and central Iowa more frequently than in past years, Iowa officials said, and social media has been giving them widespread attention. 

Most of the sightings are credited to the proximity of an elk herd found in the Black Hills of South Dakota along with central and western Nebraska, according to a release from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  

The release specified that the recent visitors are likely young males in search of new territory. While the number of individual elk visiting the state is likely very low, experts indicated that the increase in reports is based on elk covering more distance and appearing on more trail cameras.  

“I had reports coming in weekly to my office all fall,” said Wildlife Biologist with the DNR’s Saylorville Wildlife Unit Josh Gansen, “It’s to the point that it’s no longer uncommon.”  

The young elk started showing up in Iowa around breeding season of September and October, and the DNR has been collecting samples to learn more about them, including where they are coming from, according to Wildlife Biologist with the DNR’s Missouri River Wildlife Unit Doug Chafa.  

The release noted that elk were once native to Iowa but migrated away as the state was settled. However, elk and moose are protected in Iowa, and killing them can result in a fine of up to $1,000.  

Most elk will wander about without causing many issues, but there are instances when their journey may not be so smooth. In the fall of 2022, an elk was hit and killed on I-80, and another was found east of Sioux City near Highway 20. 

The Elk found near Sioux City was less than two years old, and weighed nearly 500 pounds, which is significantly larger than white-tailed deer that weigh up to 250 pounds, according to the release. 

“Talk a moment to enjoy seeking a wild elk in Iowa,” said Chafa, “As long as these animals are not causing any problems, our position is we are going to leave them be.”