Grand Rapids Public Museum announces skeleton of extinct species on display

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The Grand Rapids Public Museum added an Eastern elk skeleton to its West Michigan Habitats exhibit.

Eastern elk is an extinct elk species native to Michigan and east of the Mississippi River. The skeleton on display is made up of bones found and preserved from two separate animals.

The skull is from a fully matured male and has been radiocarbon dated to around 220 years (plus or minus 30 years). It was discovered in Sullivan Lake near Fenton in July 2020 by Michael Bleau and his family.

The rest of the skeleton on display is from a second, younger and smaller animal that was found on the east side of Basset Lake in July 1968 and was donated to the museum’s collections. It was found in the mud along the shore.

“Both finds are important,” said Dr. Cory Redman, the museum’s science curator. “They represent the extinct subspecies of elk, Eastern elk, which went extinct in Michigan around 1875. Eastern elk were exterminated so quickly it is difficult to determine their original range or study their physical differences because few specimens exist in collections.”

Eastern elk were declared fully extinct in 1880. Michigan’s current elk population is the descendants of the reintroduction of seven animals near the town of Wolverine in 1918. Today, the elk population is around 1,000, living across a 105,000-acre area in a northeastern part of the lower peninsula.

The museum’s West Michigan Habitats exhibit is included with general admission. Advance ticketing is required. Visit grpm.org to purchase tickets and learn more.

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