Meet Buttons the elk whose story is a powerful reminder of how to keep wildlife wild

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Buttons the Elk

Do you know the story about Buttons?

This curious girl, who was born around 2012, is an elk living at Woodland Park Zoo. Our herd of graceful grazers is composed of one male, and several females—some who have backgrounds that include a wildlife rescue story. That means at some point, a wildlife specialist determined that an injured, orphaned or human-acclimated animal could not be re-released into the wild. Places like Woodland Park Zoo and other accredited conservation facilities are giving animals like these a second chance to thrive in human care.


A Washington Celebrity

Buttons gained notoriety several years ago in the area between the Washington cities of Ellensburg and Cle Elum, just east of the Cascades. She became a regular in communities there where residents—believing she was orphaned—began feeding her, petting her and even putting kids onto her back. While Buttons was usually friendly with humans, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) managers say they also got calls about her damaging property, getting into conflict with pets, and occasionally acting aggressively.


Joining the Herd

For her safety and the community’s as well, WDFW biologists tried relocating Buttons to a more remote area, but she wasn’t able to integrate with the wild elk herds there. It became clear another solution was needed—so in 2019 Woodland Park Zoo became her new home. Within a matter of weeks, Buttons settled into a peaceful coexistence with our other elks and she immediately became a favorite of our animal keepers.


One Year Later with Buttons the Elk


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Buttons and our male elk, Goodwyn (he came to us from Colorado where his parents became too imprinted on humans) are both examples of animals that got a second chance to thrive here, in human care. We hope stories like this help people understand the risks—for animals and people—that can come from trying to feed or care for a wild animal that seems orphaned or injured. The best thing to do in those situations is to contact a WDFW office, or a licensed wildlife rehabilitation expert. They are uniquely qualified to provide care in a setting that doesn’t create an unnatural dependence on humans—allowing a wild animal to stay wild.

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Woodland Park Zoo saves wildlife and inspires everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives.

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Woodland Park Zoo recognizes that these are the lands of the Tribal signatories of the Treaty of Point Elliott. We acknowledge their stewardship of this place continues to this day and that it is our responsibility to join them to restore the relationship with the living world around us.

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