MEDIA RELEASE: Brave Activists Defy NPS to Save Rare Tule Elk

MEDIA RELEASE: Brave Activists Defy NPS to Save Rare Tule Elk

Point Reyes, Calif. (Sept. 2, 2020) — In Defense of Animals, ForELK and Rancho Compasión have commended local activists for delivering water to Tule elk dying of thirst at Point Reyes National Seashore. These federally protected elk are trapped in by fencing, and the main ponds they have access to are dry or in danger of drying. Drought conditions are being compounded by nearby wildfires creating a haze of smoke, yet the National Park Service (NPS) has refused to intervene to ensure more lives are not lost.

The issue was reported yesterday by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. The Tule elk drought emergency was also the subject of an exclusive ABC 7 News report.

Last week, the nonprofits offered emergency water aid to the National Park Service for the world’s largest remaining Tule elk herd. Four hundred forty-five elk are trapped and dying behind an 8-foot fence maintained by NPS to protect grazing leases for dairy and meat ranchers. Shockingly, the NPS rejected the help and continues to refuse to implement its own contingency plan to provide water.

Point Reyes National Seashore in California, where the Tule elk live, has been hit by extreme drought conditions. Most of the elk at the Seashore are kept in Tomales Point reserve. They cannot roam free, and their water supply is dangerously low. Six elk have been found dead in the past weeks, and there are likely others. The elk are dying of thirst.

Six dead elk have been discovered at the elk reserve in the last few weeks 

CREDIT: In Defense of Animals.

Local animal activists stepped in over the weekend and bravely risked their freedom to supply emergency water to the Tule elk. Under constant fear of discovery by park rangers, animal activists installed two water troughs carrying a total of 150 gallons of water. 

Wrapped up warmly against the thick night fog, activists hauled 40 lb. bottles by hand over rough terrain to the troughs where the elk can now access them. Some activists carried one or two heavy bottles at a time, while others worked to quickly refill bottles as they returned.

“Thirsty mother elk and their babies came to investigate as we installed the troughs,” said one activist who participated in providing the water aid. “I think the elk smelled the water and were waiting for us to finish so they could be first to enjoy a drink. They desperately needed it. We found another recently-deceased elk body up there; it’s just so sad and the park is doing nothing to help these trapped animals.”

Although this water will save some elk, it’s only a stop-gap solution. It won’t save all elk who are trapped behind the fence. Additionally, the troughs will require constant monitoring and refilling.

“This effort is only necessary because the Tule elk are purposely trapped behind a fence,” said Fleur Dawes, of In Defense of Animals. “NPS is actively preventing them from searching for water and foraging for food because the park’s cattle and dairy ranchers don’t want the few hundred wild elk competing with their thousands of for-profit cows—even though they are inside a national park.”

Dawes adds, “There are more cows on the Point Reyes National Seashore than there are Tule elk left in the entire world.”

One of the dried ponds at Point Reyes elk reserve 

CREDIT: Jim Coda.

NPS uses just one camera to monitor water over eight stock ponds. Most ponds are bone-dry. The others are dangerously low. The agency points to tiny mud puddles and a single trickling seep as an adequate water source, yet these cannot possibly support all 445 elk. And the largest water seep is treacherous for the elk to access. Sadly, one female who apparently tried to access it was found dead on August 19th.

“NPS says it will supply water when the seep runs dry,” said Diana Oppenheim, of ForELK. “But by then, it’s too late. We’ve seen this situation before. Some 250 elk died during the last drought in 2014 while the seep was flowing — and the NPS failed to provide additional water. The seep is dangerous for elk to access and an inadequate measurement of adequate water.“

A female elk was recently found dead in the dangerous seep. 

CREDIT: Matthew Polvorosa Kline.

“This species is barely clinging on,” said Dawn Rogers, of Rancho Compasión. “We cannot risk another mass die-off. The NPS is supporting continued ranching of cows in the park at the expense of Tule elk, and its statement and actions show they favor letting the elk die — while a public poll revealed 90% of the public favor supporting elk instead of ranchers’ cows.”

August-September is only the beginning of the dry season. Drought has hit early at a time where there are many baby elk, who are the most vulnerable to succumb to the brutal negligence of the NPS. 

Jack Gescheidt, founder of The TreeSpirit Project who participated in the unauthorized water drop, adds, “Most of the public has no idea that those so-called ‘small, organic, ranches and dairies’ are by far the greatest sources of Point Reyes soil degradation, air pollution, water pollution, and Pacific Ocean pollution. Thousands of cows are simply incompatible with the purpose of a National Park.”

“We can't afford to lose the most precious herd out of the world’s few remaining Tule elk,” said Diana Oppenheim, of ForELK. “As the negative effects of climate catastrophe worsen, and ecosystems are collapsing, it is imperative to protect wildlife and all biodiversity on this planet. If wild animals cannot be safe in a National Park, supposedly the most protected land in the world, it presents a dark future for Earth’s wild animals.”

“Waiting for another 250 elk to die before acting is unacceptable,” said Fleur Dawes, of In Defense of Animals. “The only viable long-term answer to this terrible situation is to take down the fence and get the polluting, environmentally degrading cows out of the national park. In the meantime, the NPS has a duty to immediately provide water to the trapped Tule elk.” 

In Defense of Animals, ForELK, Rancho Compasión and numerous organizations and individuals are calling on the NPS to remove the fencing trapping the elk. They include Western Watersheds Project, Resource Renewal Institute, The TreeSpirit Project, The Center for Biological Diversity, and Save Point Reyes National Seashore.

“Confining the elk is contrary to the 1916 NPS Organic Act and Point Reyes legislation, which both require NPS to prioritize elk and other natural resources, not to private, subsidized ranching, which is the only reason fencing is there,” said Diane Elise Gentile, of Save Point Reyes National Seashore.

Concerned citizens are being urged to donate to the elk water fund at and contact the Superintendent of the Seashore to ask that water be provided immediately to prevent more elk from dying.

The Superintendent can be reached at the following:


Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS)

Acting Superintendent Carey Feierabend

1 Bear Valley Road

Point Reyes Station, CA 94

415 464-5102

National Park Service (NPS)

Pacific Regional Director, Woody Smeck

333 Bush St., Suite 500

San Francisco, CA 94104-2828; cc:




• In Defense of Animals, Lisa Levinson,, 215-620-2130

• ForELK, Diana Oppenheim,, 248-840-5684,  

• Rancho Compasión, Dawn Rogers,, 510-990-6443

• The TreeSpirit Project, Jack Gescheidt,, 415-488-4200


View images available for use with credit per filename:


Watch film: The Shame of Point Reyes:


Detailed documentation of current conditions:


Donate to support water for Tule elk fund:



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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 37-year history of protecting animals’ rights, welfare, and habitats through education, campaigns, and hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi.

ForELK is a grassroots organization of people who fight for the protection of the Tule elk and their habitat within Point Reyes National Seashore. They work toward public engagement through education, direct outreach, network building, political demonstrations and protests.

Rancho Compasión is a non-profit sanctuary founded in west Marin in 2015 that provides a safe haven to over 70 rescued farmed animals. Its mission is to provide shelter and care for rescued farm animals for their entire natural lifespans, and to educate visitors and students to help them rethink how they view animals typically categorized as “food”.

The TreeSpirit Project is a celebration of our interdependence with nature. Thousands of people have taken part in fine art photographs that raise awareness of the critical role of trees and wild spaces in our lives.

You can support our work by donating