School Tours

Introduction to the Tule Elk

At the south end of the San Joaquin Valley, Tule Elk State Natural Reserve protects a small herd of tule elk, an endemic California Subspecies once hunted nearly to extinction. After the moose, elk are the second largest members of the deer family (Cervidae) in North America. Three subspecies of elk (Cervus elephus also known as Cervus canadensis) still survive in the United States - Roosevelt elk, Rocky Mountain elk, and tule elk. California's tule elk are about half the size of the Roosevelt elk and lighter in color, with shorter coats and larger teeth. Tule elk once dominated the deer and pronghorn population that also grazed in the San Joaquin Valley. Estimated at more the half a million animals before 1849, tule elk originally ranged from Shasta County in the north to the base of the Tehachapi Mountains in the south, and from west of the Sierra Nevada to the central Pacific coast. California's once lush Central Valley oringinally provided ideal grazing range for the tule elk.

This elk subspecies began its decline in the 1700s with the arrival of European settlers. They imported grasses and grazing animals that competed with both native vegetation and native animals. Hunters and traders further decimated the state's elk population when they began killing them for hide and tallow. During and after the Gold Rush, new residents' demand for elk meat increased. By the time elk hunting was banned by the State Legislature in 1873, the tule elk was believed to be extinct.

Cattle rancher Henry Miller led a movement to protect any remaining tule elk by providing 600-acres of open range (near today's reserve) and rewarding his workers who informed on anyone disturbing the elk. In 1874, game warden A.C. Tibbets found the few remaining tule elk hiding in the tule plants near Buena Vista Lake. An 1895 count showed 28 surviving tule elk. The need to preserve the tule elk resulted in a legislated elk sanctuary. In 1932, the State Parks Commission purchased 953-acres for a reserve in Kern County near the town of Tupman.

On-Site School Tours

If you would like to schedule an on-site school tour, please sign up through our online scheduling web page.

Please check out the Tule Elk State Natural Reserve's digital educational content:

Virtual School Tours

Tule Elk: One of California’s Largest Land Mammals

Tule elk once dominated California’s deer and pronghorn population in the San Joaquin Valley. Estimated at more than half a million animals before 1849, tule elk, an endemic California subspecies, were hunted nearly to extinction by 1873. Their fascinating story of survival will delight and inspire students.

Our interactive, virtual adventure will feature the tule elk's history, habitat, biology, what characteristics define a mammal, and how the tule elk were brought back from the brink of extinction. Teachers visit our Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS) page to schedule a virtual PORTS On-Demand program of the Tule Elk State Natural Reserve for your class.

This virtual school tour is 45-minutes.

Summer Learning Program

The Summer Learning Program engages K-12 students from afterschool programs and community organizations which offer programming specifically for disadvantaged student populations during the summer months. Students have the opportunity to visit Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park for a day program exploring the history the African American town of Allensworth. 

The stimulating interpretive programs and activities that are presented in the Summer Learning Program help the students advance academically and physically. These programs introduce them to the excitement of being in natural environments and cultural settings. Students also come away with insights and appreciation for their important role as stewards of the environment. For many of the students, these programs provide them with their first experience outside of an urban setting.

For more information or to schedule a Summer Learning Program, please email us or phone (661) 764-6881.