Abstract - Natural Mortality of Bison and Elk in Wind Cave National Park

Klukas, R.W. 1979. Natural Mortality of Bison and Elk in Wind Cave National Park. Annual Summer Conference, Central Mountains and Plains Section of The Wildlife Society. 13 p.


In several national parks of this country populations of large ungulates are managed by artificial means such as trapping and removal. At Wind Cave populations of both elk and bison are regulated in this manner. Such a management program is necessary since natural predation is far below the level required to assure that the range is not overutilized.

Though elk and bison herds are reduced primarily through trapping and removal there is still a certain amount of natural mortality occurring in each species. This study, which began in early 1977, is attempting to measure the nature and extent of such mortality and determine possible ecological effects of the same. Data on natural mortality is beign collected pertaining to: seasonality and causes of occurrence; age and sex of deceased animals; and the environmental characteristics of death sites. Additional information is being obtained pertaining to the utilization of the total remains including skeletal materials. In this respect use by both vertebrate and invertebrate species will be examined. Where possible changes in soil and vegetation characteristics caused by the byproducts of decomposition are being recorded.

Two years of data collection, involving the location and examination of approximately 45 elk and bison remains, have resulted in the identification of certain mortality characteristics relating to sex, age, site type and utilization by scavengers and decomposers. Some of these characteristics seem to reflect the effects of the current ungulate management program at Wind Cave.

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