The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is dissecting the organs of elk to determine how to better help them through severe winters, The Associated Press
reports. The "elk organs project" allows biologists to measure the fat content and better understand how to help animals
The WDFW has been focused on ways to measure the health of the Mount St. Helens elk herd for the past six years, after hundreds starved to heath in the Toutle River Valley of Washington due to harsh winters in recent years, the news outlet reports.
Biologists cut apart carcasses collected by hunters last fall in order to measure the fat content surrounding the heart. Unlike in the human heart, the sign of a healthy elk heart is a thick layer of fat around it.
Over the past few years, scientists have noted less than ideal fat content in the cow elk's organs. However, it has been sufficient enough to continue producing calves, the news outlet reports.
According to National Geographic
, elk were once found across much of North America, but hunting and human settlement forced them into more remote locations, such as the far corners of western North America.