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Editorial: What happened to the elk?

Friday, August 10, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Editorial Board

Editorial: 

What happened to the elk?

Editorials reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board, as determined by the members of the board, the editorial page editor and the publisher.

Tuesday’s Tribune dished up a mystery: What killed three elk on display in the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s Busse Woods last fall?

First reaction: Wait. The forest preserve has captive elk?

Second: Why?

Before we are inundated with calls and emails from animal lovers, let us stipulate that we are elk fans — if those elk roam the wild, where they belong.

The small herd of Busse Woods elk, however, munches and meanders in a 17-acre enclosed pen with an open pasture and shady woodlands. The elk are a popular attraction for local families — and a tradition since the first elk were transported from Yellowstone in 1925.

County officials say they aren’t sure what caused the deaths of the three elk, part of a six-member herd, the Tribune’s Gregory Pratt reported. Autopsies were inconclusive. But officials suspect the elk died of dehydration because the county’s elk-keepers didn’t give them enough water.

Related: Half the elk at Busse Woods died last year, and officials aren’t sure why »

The upshot: Two workers were punished. One was suspended for eight days. Another got a written reprimand for negligence and not providing enough water to the elk. Two other workers were not disciplined.

So that’s four — count ’em, four — workers who apparently could have, would have, should have made sure the animals were cared for. And four workers who apparently failed.

Cook County Commissioner Timothy Schneider, whose district includes Elk Grove Village and Busse Woods, says the county was too lenient in disciplining the workers. “Their job was to count to six every day and carry a bucket of water,” he tells us. “It’s as simple as that. They couldn’t even do that.”

We can’t help but hear the echo of generations of parents warning children that if they couldn’t care for a pet dog/cat/fish/lizard, then they couldn’t have one. Seems like Cook County has proved that it can’t handle the responsibility of elk care.

So what now? District officials say they’ll replenish the herd by bringing more elk from Texas later this fall. But Schneider says the district shouldn’t bring in more elk until officials can better publicly explain why those elk died last year. We agree. And we’ll go a step further than Schneider: We think the forest preserve should care for what remains of the herd until it expires, then get out of the business of keeping captive elk. The animals are better off roaming in the wild, where they can find their own food and water instead of relying on humans. The forest preserve isn’t a zoo.

Join the discussion on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook.

Submit a letter to the editor here or emailletters@chicagotribune.com.



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