Buchanan County, Va. - On Thursday we decided to check up on some real history-making animals.
Elk were brought to a part of southwest Virginia last year. Some folks though the elk might die off or wander away, So just how are they doing?
A group of elk, a wild animal not seen in southwest Virginia in more than 100 years, was reintroduced to the area last May. We returned to their mountain-top home Wednesday evening to see how the small herd of 16 is doing.
The elk were brought here by Leon Boyd and the local chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. With so much space to graze, they can be a challenge to find.
But the elk have tracking devices. Boyd visits a lot, especially during turkey season, and has captured great pictures of the growing herd. "There's nothing I've ever done that's been any more satisfying to me than this project has here," Boyd says.
It's satisfying because the herd looks great. They're healthy and doing what elk do -- grazing on what was once the site of a surface mine. "With what the mining industry and the drilling industry folks do as far as vegetation, what they put back for wildlife is unbelievable," he said.
It has been the perfect habitat for these majestic animals, so much so the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is preparing to release more elk in Buchanan County in a month or so.
That means a little sprucing up at the holding facility. "This whole facility was constructed as what we call a soft release facility. What that does for a wild animal like an elk is it gives them a chance to essentially settle down," said Johnny Wills, a biologist with the department.
They can settle down and get comfortable in their new home, which they have. Just as the sun begins to set, they begin to make their way out into the open. Some cows and young calves graze on a hillside, and right along the road two bulls give us a curious look.
"It's been very successful. Talking to a lot of the other folks that have done projects and re-introduction with the elk in different states, I think we've been fortunate with the way it's gone so far," Boyd said.
A couple dozen more elk will join the original herd. It's a double success story: restoration of mined land and restoration of one of the nation's largest game animals.