Tule Elk

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In Defense of Animals is fighting for the survival of the rare Tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Tule elk are a unique species, native to California; there are only about 6,000 on Earth, all in California. The largest number of these rare, beautiful animals in one place are three herds totaling about 500 elk at Point Reyes National Seashore, 20 miles north of San Francisco. But National Park Service (NPS) policies here confine and kill elk, to favor private cattle ranchers who exploit 5,000 cattle and lease 28,000 acres of this publicly-owned 71,000-acre park.

The Tule elk are cruelly confined by fences built so wild elk can’t compete with cows for forage (vegetation) or water. Cattle ranching is the park's #1 source of land degradation, water contamination, and global-warming pollution (methane) at the park.

Over 224 elk died from thirst and hunger in the last 2 years due to California’s drought. It’s past time to free the Tule elk from confinement in a national park.

The Tule elk, and all wild animals, should be free of fences at Point Reyes Seashore; free to roam and flourish, as all wild animals should in all national parks.

The NPS mission to protect and conserve wild animals like the Tule elk has been corrupted by private business interests. The magnificent Tule elk are being “managed” to death, dying of thirst and malnutrition due to confinement. And the Park Service recently enacted new legislation allowing them to shoot some elk to death. 

The only reason they haven’t shot elk yet is because of the surge in public education, and outrage, generated by the actions of citizen and activist groups — including In Defense of Animals. We are leading the charge to remove cattle ranches from public lands, and free the Tule elk.

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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, confined to varying degrees by fences and, as a result, suffering and dying.


Cows exploited for beef and dairy who, by no fault of their own, are the #1 source of pollution of soil, waterways, ocean and air in our national park.

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