Once Nearly Extinct, Rare Elk Make South Bay Comeback


SAN JOSE — A species of elk native to California is making a significant comeback in the hills around San Jose after once dwindling to precariously low numbers.

Herds of tule elk are easily visible in the foothills above Hellyer Park, east of Highway 101. They've established themselves in relatively small plots of land, just "40 to 50 acres within the city boundaries of a county park," said naturalist Roger Castillo. "They are staying there."

Some residents have seen the animals stray into their yards, Castillo said. 

Concerted efforts have helped revive the local population which fell to fewer than 20 tule elk. 

Silicon Valley legend, Bill Hewlett, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, played a role in supporting the species. 

"There were landowners that wanted the tule elk reintroduced onto their property. Bill Hewlitt was instrumental in bringing them back to Santa Clara County," said biologist Julie Phillips. "That was pretty amazing." 

She worries about poachers shooting the animals or scaring them away with helicopters, not to mention the threat posed by climate change. 

"We just know that we have to be able to protect as many as possible," she said. 

Preservationists are now lobbying to build wildlife passages across Highway 101 so that elk and other species can migrate safely between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range.

Wildlife enthusiasts have been happy to see also Chinook salmon return to some of the South Bay's streams and creeks.