HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Along State Highway 45 near Driftwood, a vibrant yellow traffic sign depicts an animal not typically found in Central Texas’ neck of the woods.
The sign forewarns of elk in the area. But that begs the question: Since when are there elk in Central Texas?
KXAN took that question to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to see if there are any herds dwelling in the greater Austin area. A TPWD spokesperson said while there are elk in the Trans-Pecos and western Panhandle regions of Texas, most found locally aren’t naturally residing here.
“Any free-ranging elk found in Hays County or Central Texas have likely escaped from a high-fenced ranch,” the TPWD spokesperson told KXAN over email.
Officials added it’s not unusual for fences near creeks and river crossings “to become compromised after rainfall events and severe weather.” As a result, the official said these animals can be “commonly observed in the Edwards Plateau.”
Elk can also be mistaken for other kinds of animals, the official added, such as red deer. Elk are a fellow deer-like herbivore species, with six-pointed antlers that they shed each year.
Traditionally, elk have light brown fur with darker portions along their head, neck, legs and belly, along with a white patch on their rump, per TPWD.
Their breeding season typically begins in late summer and runs through November, with baby elk often born in May and June.
“Historical evidence indicates that elk may have been present over much of Texas. By the late 1800s, records indicate that elk were only present in the Guadalupe Mountains of far west Texas,” TPWD wrote. “Currently, free ranging elk exist over a large portion of west Texas and on high fence ranches throughout the state.”