Tule Elk

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We are fighting to free the Tule elk, and remove all commercial cattle operations at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Tule elk, native to California, are a unique species; there are only about 6,000 on Earth, all in California. The largest number of these rare, beautiful animals in one place is at Point Reyes National Seashore, a 71,000-acre national park unit just 20 miles north of San Francisco.

Three separate herds in the park total about 700 elk (in 2024), and the largest herd is in the fenced “Tule Elk Reserve” at the park’s northernmost Tomales Point.

Over 475 of the elk in the Reserve have died slow, gruesome deaths from thirst and hunger over the last 10 years due to California’s drought — while trapped on Tomales Point by an 8-foot-tall, 3-mile-long southernmost border fence. 

National Park Service (NPS) policies have kept the Reserve’s elk confined, favoring private cattle ranches profits over elk lives.  Ranchers lease 28,000 acres — a full 1/3rd of this publicly-owned 71,000-acre park.  Their approximately 4,500 beef and dairy cows, exploited and slaughtered for their milk and flesh outnumber wild elk 6-to-1.

Point Reyes Seashore is more a manure-polluted National Feedlot than National Park.

The many cattle operations, despite being organic, are the Seashore’s greatest source of land degradation from excessive grazing. Its greatest source of water contamination from excessive manure and urine.  And ranches even create more greenhouse gas air pollution — in the form of heat-trapping methane emissions — than the park’s over one million annual visitor vehicles tailpipe emissions.  

Fences harm elk and all wild animals at Point Reyes

300 additional miles of wire cattle fences (both straight and barbed)  restrict the natural movements and behavior of Tule elk, and all wild animals.  Fences also prevent human visitors from accessing the park their taxes pay for.  Additional millions of dollars of public subsidies silently prop up these filthy, cruel, businesses. These modern ranches are traditions from another era, polluting the environment and abusing and exploiting, for profit, the bodies of thousands of gentle, defenseless cows.

The cattle industry is the only reason Tule elk remain confined inside the Reserve. Even the park’s other two herds are restricted in their movements. Tule elk will never be safe and free and healthy at Point Reyes until the commercial cattle operations are removed.

With your support, activism is working: the Reserve’s elk fence may come down.

Dedicated activism by In Defense of Animals over the last three years of, along with other environmental and animal rights organizations — and thousands of concerned citizens, including you — have forced changes.  The National Park Service initiated the necessary, lengthy, bureaucratic process to dismantle the fence by year’s (2024) end.

Freeing the Tule elk is the 1st step to make Point Reyes wild and healthy for all animals.

The NPS mission to preserve and protect the Tule elk, and all the wild animals and their habitat, at Point Reyes, has been corrupted by the cattle industry, which wants them “managed” to death, instead of being allowed to roam free of all fences and human threats.

In Defense of Animals is proudly leading the charge to champion the Tule elk, remove cattle ranches from Point Reyes National Seashore, and realize the National Park Service founding vision for a wild Point Reyes National Seashore.

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The history. In 1994, In Defense of Animals blocked a plan that would allow bowhunting of Tule elk at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore; replacing the killing with a contraceptive program.

The drought of 2020. In the summer of 2020, gruesome photographs emerged of Tule elk dead from thirst in the Tule Elk Preserve at Point Reyes National Seashore. In Defense of Animals sprang into action alongside other activists advocating water be provided for the Preserve’s fenced-in Tule elk — but the NPS repeatedly refused. We supported activists who risked their own freedom and safety, entering Point Reyes under the cover of darkness to provide the protected species this basic resource. However, rangers sabotaged efforts to save the Tule elk, dumping out troughs of water on two separate occasions.

The 2020 drought is only one in many years of California droughts. From 2012-to-2014, over half of the Seashore’s largest of three herds died — 254 of 540 elk in the fenced Tule Elk Preserve. This preventable tragedy occurred while dairies continued their usual, massive infusion of water and food to their enslaved cows-for-profit. Another drought is anticipated this summer-autumn of 2021. In Defense of Animals will continue lobbying the Park Service for remedies both immediate and long-term.

The NPS is planning even worse. Unbelievably, the Park Service supports a plan to shoot some Tule elk at the request of ranchers. Point Reyes, a rare, safe haven for this magnificent, protected species, would become a hunting ground. This is wild animal brutality, in a national park system, despite overwhelming public disapproval. A survey of 7,627 people, conducted by the Park Service itself, found 91% wanted elk left alone, and cows out of the park. Tule elk are a national attraction, not factory farms.

Pollution is no solution. Point Reyes has now degraded from a national park unit into a national cesspool. Water testing initiated and funded by In Defense of Animals and Western Watersheds Project has exposed how Point Reyes’ factory farms have contaminated its waterway with E.coli, enterococci, and other harmful coliform bacteria from massive amounts of cow manure. Precious coastal wildlife habitat is polluted and trampled, all so cows can be confined, abused, and killed for the meat and dairy industry.

The fate of the iconic California Tule elk is now in the hands of animal, wildlife, and wildland advocates like In Defense of Animals.

What We’re Doing To Save The Tule Elk

In Defense of Animals is leading a pioneering campaign to save the Tule elk.

Working with other animal and environmentalist groups, we have:

  • Supported activists providing water for at-risk Tule elk who are starved by rancher-first policies
  • Put the Tule elk on the national agenda by securing coverage in high profile media like Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, ABC7 News, KPIX 5 (CBS), The Independent and many more
  • Drawn attention to the Tule elk's plight by teaming up with actors Peter Coyote and Alexandra Paul, NBA sports personality Bonnie-Jill Laflin, and The Cove director Louie Psihoyos
  • Organized protests against NPS negligence in Point Reyes
  • Partnered with local organizations, experts and activists
  • Urged politicians to take a stand for the survival of the Tule elk population
  • Organized and funded scientific testing documenting negligence and desecration of our national park unit
  • Supported our Tule elk campaigner in a lawsuit to hold the NPS accountable for killing Tule elk 
  • Spoken out for the Tule elk at stakeholder meetings

What You Can Do To Save The Tule elk

In Defense of Animals is leading a pioneering campaign to save the Tule elk.


Tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore, in three herds, are confined to varying degrees at the behest of the cattle industry.


Cows, exploited for their milk and their flesh, are (by no fault of their own) the park’s #1 source of land, water and air pollution in this national park.

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