[VIDEO] Why Are There Elk Flying Over Kentucky?

Residents of Kentucky got a big surprise recently when they looked skyward and saw an unusual sight. Although it might seem like it in the following video, it’s not actually raining elk in the bluegrass state. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources are now using helicopters to transport elk to what’s now being referred to as “the elk zone.”

Check it out per Mother Nature Network:

 The 16 counties that make up the “zone” were established 20 years ago when elk were reintroduced to Kentucky after overhunting and habitat destruction decimated the population.

“It’s been 20 years since we started returning elk to Kentucky,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The number of elk transferred to this location in Bell County is small compared to the total number of elk estimated to be on the ground in the elk zone. It speaks to how far we’ve come that we’re now able to establish a research and source herd while providing the public with a prime location to see these magnificent animals in the wild.”

Officials estimate that over 11,000 elk now roam across the state and graze on 4 million acres of land reclaimed from strip-mining.

The helicopters, along with low-stress transportation practices for the animals, allow the population to be evenly distributed across Kentucky. It also helps build tourism; people come from all over the world to see the majestic animals.

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation and others to help create a memorable wildlife viewing experience for residents and visitors to southeastern Kentucky,” Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gregory K. Johnson said. “This project is yet another step in our continuing efforts to broaden the distribution of elk in this part of the state and promote tourism and economic opportunities in eastern Kentucky.”

And here’s more from the Kentucky Herald:

Mark Marraccini, communications director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the department worked with the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation to relocate about 100 elk to Bell County, where the foundation is working to bring an Appalachian Wildlife Center to a reclaimed mining site.

“Elk are more than just hunting animals,” Marraccini said. “Elk also is a huge tourism draw for that part of the state.”

Elk roamed Kentucky until the mid-1800s, when overhunting and habitat destruction wiped them from the landscape.

In 1997, the state Fish and Wildlife Resources Commission approved a program aimed at bringing them back.

In the first five years of the repopulation effort, 1,551 elk were captured in six western states and released in Kentucky’s elk zone, Marraccini said.

Today, the state’s herd numbers about 11,000 and is the largest east of the Rocky Mountains. They graze on 4.2 million acres, about a million acres of which is reclaimed strip-mining land.

So the next time you look to the sky and see something unexpected…

It might not be a bird…

And it might not be a plane…

It could just be a flying elk!

What the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in the sky?