These Maps for the First Time Show the Migration of Elk and Other Wildlife Across an American Serengeti

The survival of bighorn sheep and other species depends on their ability to navigate highways and other obstacles.

(Photo: Vimeo)

Nov 24, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

How do you explain the complex and intricate migration patterns of Wyoming’s biggest herds?

Take a cue from Indiana Jones.

That’s what University of Wyoming professor Matthew Kauffman has done to bring to life his latest data recorded from GPS-collared moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and mule deer across the state.

“I was describing how we should do it like Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Kauffman told WyoFile.

But instead of lines following a globe-hopping fictional archaeologist, Kauffman and his colleagues have developed colorful maps showing the importance of wilderness reserves to the state’s migrating herds.

Wyoming Migration Initiative
(Map: Courtesy MigrationInitiative.org)

The recordings—which are part of the Wyoming Migration Initiative—are some of the first to outline the animals’ seasonal movements in and out of the state’s designated wilderness areas.

They show a problem: Moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and mule deer travel up to 300 miles round-trip over the course of a year, moving across private and public lands, national parks, wilderness reserves, and highways.

The checkerboard-like route can lead to migration patterns disrupted by human obstacles, including fences and highways too dangerous to cross.

In 2012, the first wildlife overpasses were built over Wyoming’s Highway 191 to give pronghorn antelope a safe way to complete their migration.

The importance of safe passage for each species’ survival was something Kauffman said the maps make even more apparent. The movement up hills and mountains during spring and summer is key for animals to obtain the most nutritious food, just as moving to lower elevations in winter months keeps them from the frigid temperatures.

“One of the things coming into focus to us in migration is a key strategy,” Kauffman told WyoFile. “That’s the solution these animals have in making a living on the Wyoming landscape.”

The video and maps were released to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which resulted in the creation of the first designated wilderness areas in Wyoming.