This post fulfills two things:
1) My long-held desire to present the tale of Buttons/Ellie the Elk as a children’s story
2) Answering your inquires from this post about what happened to our elk friend (scroll to the bottom of the story for that update)
Buttons The Magical Elk
Once upon a time, there was an elk who stood apart from her species.
She grew up an orphan, adopting humans as her herd. They named her Buttons.
She was a very curious elk and not easily frightened.
When she was about two years old, she wandered away from the farm where she grew up.
She discovered very interesting animals living at a property nearby.
Who would have guessed there was a chimpanzee sanctuary in the neighborhood?!
The chimpanzees at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest were curious about this new visitor and sometimes walked together around their outdoor habitat on opposite sides of the fence.
The humans at the sanctuary loved her. They called her Ellie, not knowing she had been named Buttons.
What a treat to have such an unusual companion!
She did cause quite a bit of mischief, however…
She wandered further and further away from her childhood home, finding more human friends in a nearby village, having many adventures, and causing more mischief.
She was an elk, after all. A large, powerful, wild animal.
Not a dog.
Nor a cat.
Nor a cow.
Her human friends worried about her future.
Shouldn’t she be with others of her kind?
One day, a small herd of wild elk passed through the sanctuary property. Her sanctuary human friends hoped Ellie would join them and discover the life of an elk. But, alas, Ellie ignored the other elk and stayed put.
Word of the magical elk traveled throughout the land, gaining the attention of officials who became concerned.
She was far too comfortable around humans, even those she did not know.
Something could go wrong. She could easily hurt someone. Someone could hurt her.
An officer in charge of wildlife decided it was finally time to find a new home for Buttons. But where?
Officer Scott knew there were elk nearby who stayed in one spot for the winter, so his team put Buttons on a trailer and moved her to this herd.
Some of her human friends in the village were very worried and even mad.
Why would they take Buttons away from her home and the people who loved her?
Her human friends at the sanctuary hoped for the best – the chance for Ellie to be an elk.
She didn’t know how to be an elk in such a big group, though. She stayed away from them and searched for a way out.
Officer Scott looked high and low for other options for Buttons. A place for her to be herself and be safe.
The sanctuary humans offered to keep her at the sanctuary, but knew that would mean she would be an elk of one and not able to wander far.
Officer Scott heard from the zoo over the tall mountains – they had a small group of elk and could take Buttons!
A year and a half later, the sanctuary humans asked the zoo humans how Buttons/Ellie was doing, and this is what they said:
The Roosevelt elk (cows Willow and Lily) hang out together and the Rocky Mountain elk (bull Goodwyn and Buttons) are seen mostly together. Buttons, now being the oldest of the cows, is the dominant female and enjoys pushing those young cows around. During this rut season, Goodwyn seems to direct his attention to Buttons (he’s had a vasectomy, so there will be no baby elk).
Buttons continues to be a blessing to keeper staff in her willingness to shift and engage with us. She loves her afternoon carrots and leaf eater biscuit “cookies.”
Even though Buttons was raised with people and interacted mostly with people, she certainly knows elk language and behavior, and is confident in our little herd.
Buttons had found her home. A place where she could be her mischievous self but also live with others like her.
The zoo humans even shared some beautiful photos of her at her Woodland Park Zoo home:
Not long ago, as the sun was rapidly sinking, the sanctuary humans heard strange animal calls near the property. Sounds they had never heard before.
It was the loud cries of bull elk calling back and forth across the valley! The sanctuary humans rushed quietly up the hill, squinting to try to see in the dark.
When they got to the spot where Ellie used to walk on the other side of the fence with the chimpanzees, they heard heavy breathing and pounding hoofs and saw the shadowy figures of dozens of elk running through the woods.
They wondered if these elk were Ellie’s original family.
They wondered what her life would have been like if she had been able to stay in the wild.
But they know, like the chimpanzees they care for, that sometimes wild animals can’t go back to the wild.
Sometimes the happy ending isn’t perfect, but it’s still happy.