St. Louis Area Wildlife Park: Something to Remember

| 2/17/2009 5:00:00 PM

A portrait of the author, Caleb ReganBack in late December, while visiting Gwen’s family southwest of St. Louis, we spent part of a Sunday afternoon driving through a wildlife park, St. Louis County Lone Elk Park. Boasting bison, elk, whitetail deer, turkey and waterfowl, this free outing is a hidden beauty in the hilly, colorful eastern Missouri landscape; especially appealing to people who enjoy wildlife and nature. It is definitely a picturesque park with life, however, exactly how “wild” is debatable.

Initially, the first thing I noticed driving into the park was that the gate was wide open as we drove in and didn’t shut behind us. Sort of expecting a Jurassic Park-type enclosure, how, then, did they keep all the wildlife in this place? The answer, I think, is that by feeding these animals and after they’ve been fenced in for so long, it must just be easier to remain, accept the food, forage on the land, and stay within the 546-acre fenced enclosure. They know where the fences and gates are.

Still, I really expected the animals to know exactly when the gate was open, and it’s still kind of peculiar to me. Either they want to be there, or they’ve been conditioned somehow to remain confined and the gate can be left open for most of the day, without the animals knowing the opportunity this presents. Or they know it’s no opportunity at all. We never did see any kind of park ranger, which you’d think they need to ensure animal safety and keep track of herds.

But I digress, this park really is a cool place, and – being free – makes for a quality, different way to spend the day.

The only thing that I didn’t get to see was the bird sanctuary – Gwen wouldn’t go down to that area because she said the birds are caged and tied down, and it’s sad and even inhumane. That made me want to go down there even more, if nothing more than to see what sort of system they had in place that would make a girl who dove hunts think something inhumane. Not that I think dove hunting is inhumane in the least – especially once you marinate them, stuff them with a jalepeño pepper and wrap them in bacon – it’s just that the tolerance of such a girl would seem to be higher. What I really thought was, Those cages must be tiny. And, on second thought, who wants to see such a thing?

The 4-by-4 bull, away from the cowsOnce past the turn off for the bird sanctuary, we entered an area that serves as kind of the bottoms of the park. There’s a rather small lake (I’d guess around 50 acres), and the road runs around the lake and through forest and grassland. As soon as we reached the lake, we were surrounded by a herd of elk, and I was in awe. The only time I’d seen elk before was while hunting them in Colorado, so the tameness these exhibited really caught me off guard. Looking to the left, I was observing a bull with four or five cows, when a reflection off the windshield caught my eye and I turned to my right to see another cow staring at me about 2 feet from the passenger-side window. The best elk we saw, by my standards, was a pretty mature-looking 4-by-4 (8-pointer). For whatever reason, all of these elk didn’t seem to have the sleek coat that you’d expect to see on a wild, roaming animal in the heart of winter. I’ve never heard of confinement causing mange, if mange is even what this was (true mange is caused by a parasitic mite, so it’s hard to say).

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