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Large Animals on the Preserve

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Valles Caldera Large Animals on the Preserve

We get lots of questions about the numbers of elk, bears, and lions that are the large animals on the Preserve.
I talked to our Wildlife Biologist, Mark, to get an updated reading on the answer. He provided the following information:
“Elk = Population for the entire Jemez estimated at 6,100-7,200 with a bull:cow:calf ratio of 33:100:32.
I would guess that the VCNP would represent ~1,500-2,000 of this herd size.
Black Bear = 17 bears/100 km = ~60 black bears
Mountain Lions = ~1 mountain lion/100 km = ~3-4 mountain lions”….OH MY!!!
That’s a lot of animals!
I know what you’re thinking, why don’t we see more of them when we visit? Keep in mind that we have 89,000 acres in the Preserve and much of that is wooded. Also keep in mind that all these animals are wild.
Part of that is because we hunt the elk and the turkeys each year. We are mandated to continue the hunts because it’s written right into the enabling legislation that was used to create the Preserve.
The hunting helps manage the elk herd and helps keep them wild, which benefits them and us. If elk, or any wild animal, becomes too accustomed to human interaction it becomes dangerous for them and for us.
Unlike other Park units that have constant human / elk interactions, our elk remain wild and try to keep lots of space between themselves and us.
As for the lions and, to some degree, bears, they are mostly nocturnal. Much of what they do happens in the dark of night when we are not here.
They also have much better senses than we do. For example, the bears have better sight and hearing than we do. Their sense of smell is about seven times better than ours, which answers how they can locate a kill so effectively.
Combine this with the advice that we give hikers and bikers to make some noise, thereby warning the bears of our presence, and it’s no wonder that we see few of them.
The Preserve has many large animals.
Occasionally we see them. Many times, we see evidence of their presence. Always we know they are here, and we enjoy that fact. If we see them or get a picture of them it’s just icing on the cake.
As I always say, this Preserve is a slice of paradise that you and I own. Come and enjoy!
Ranger Dave