Elk herds that were reintroduced to northwestern Ontario nearly 20 years ago have started to spread out and claim new territory, according to a retired wildlife biologist who continues to study the animals.

Bruce Ranta was part of the team that brought elk back to the northwest in the Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls area, after they were decimated in the early 1900s.

The animals have been spotted closer to Fort Frances and even creeping towards Atikokan, he said.

“We certainly are interested in any sightings that people do see of elk,” he told CBC News.

“It’s good … monitoring and keeping an interest up is an excellent way of being able to gauge what’s going on.”

Over 100 elk were brought over from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Ranta said, and experts believe there are still about 60 left in northwestern Ontario. Ranta added that a combination of poaching in the first few years and predation combined to slowly bring numbers down.

“We also brought them in when the deer population was starting to peak, Ranta said. “So, as the deer population peaked, there were more and more wolves, and we also have an issue with brainworm.”

Despite those setbacks, Ranta said the elk, which have split into two main herds, are doing well these days, with forestry operations providing clear cuts that are beneficial to the animals.

Reducing human pressure on the elk could help those numbers become even healthier, he said.

Ranta added that volunteers continue to do most of the active monitoring of the herds, and encouraged anyone who spots the animals to report sightings to the nearest office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

“It’s a great help to all of us, it keeps interest high,” he said, adding that purchasing and maintaining necessary equipment also takes money.

“We’re not getting paid to do this, so sometimes keeping an interest in the project helps with fundraising.”