Using trail cameras to monitor migratory elk herds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Herd composition surveys are conducted annually for big game species in Wyoming and elsewhere. These surveys provide biologists with information regarding the age and sex ratios of each herd as well as recruitment rates. This information is critical for setting an
d reaching population objectives and adjusting harvest limits. Traditionally, these surveys are conducted via helicopter and fixed wing aircraft; but these techniques are very costly, and they are potentially dangerous for the personnel involved. Recent success in using remotely triggered cameras to classify migratory mule deer passing through highway underpasses has sparked an interest further investigations of this method. We are evaluating the efficacy of using trail cameras to collect herd composition data for several migratory elk herds that inhabit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Where highway underpasses offer convenient ‘funnels’ along Needle_cr_spring_'14migratory routes for mule deer, determining where naturally occurring bottlenecks occur on the landscape is less intuitive. We have used GPS locations from collared elk in each migratory herd to determine where migration routes overlap, suggesting areas where elk herds must converge through rugged terrain or preferred travel routes. Highly productive camera locations have the potential to become long-term monitoring stations used annually to photograph specific elk herds during spring and fall migration, yielding information on migration timing, composition, and overwinter calf loss. Since many migratory elk herds in this region intermingle with other migratory herds or resident herds on seasonal ranges, it makes it difficult to determine composition and demographic data for specific herds. The use of remote trail cameras will offer a more cost effective, and less risky, method to collect composition data on elk herds that were previously difficult to attain.




Travis Zaffarano

[email protected]

(307) 300-6959

Project Lead

Travis is earning his M.S. degree working with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming. His research investigates the use of trail cameras in conducting population surveys on migratory elk herds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. These new methodologies could provide a safer, more cost effective method of collecting this critical data.


This project is scheduled for completion fall 2016.

Funding & Partners

Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Wyoming Governor’s Big Game Licence Coalition

Wyoming Wildlife – The Foundation