Grief and outrage is registering across the Internet and the world after a beloved elk named Hollywood was discovered killed by poachers in an nature preserve.
The animal’s headless body was discovered in Nickel Wildlife Preserve Saturday. Ironically, the reason he was likely killed was because he had no fear of humans and enjoyed being around them. Cameras and children flocked to the small, scruffy bull to pose and take pictures.
Hollywood was a protected animal on private land. The preserve he lived in strictly bans hunting, which makes the fact that poachers entered there even more egregious.
J.T. Nickel Preserve in Oklahoma is owned by The Nature Conservancy, an environmental non-profit, and encompasses about 17,000 acres. Hollywood was one of a herd of about 50 wild elk that calls it home.
“People with kids could drive through, and it was almost guaranteed they would see him,” Preserve Director Jeremy Tubbs told the Tulsa World. “There are no other elk like that on the preserve; they are typically pretty secretive animals.”
As Hollywood’s fans mourn, one big question remains: Why was he killed? The poachers left his entire body, only taking a small amount of meat. They also took the head, but Tubbs said that would have little value as a trophy.
One visitor tweeted that she enjoyed seeing Hollywood whenever she visited the park with her daughters, and called him Lawrence Elk, after musician and TV host Lawrence Welk.
Kristy Greathouse Reeves wrote on Facebook, “I’m pretty sad to see the posts confirming that the elk killed at the game preserve was the elk that the girls and I called Lawrence Elk. His name, by the way, was Hollywood because so many stopped to take photos of him. I hope you get justice, Lawrence/Hollywood. You were more than just a pair of antlers to me and my girls.”
In order to get to the bottom of this, several nature and wildlife organizations are offering a combined $4,000 reward for providing information about the elk’s killers. It will be a small comfort, but it still won’t assuage the grief and outrage over the bull, whose love of people led to his death.
“My photos [of Hollywood] just came up on Facebook, you know, where it brings up memories of ‘one year ago today’?” a visitor to the preserve, Becky Reeves, told the Tulsa World. “It’s heartbreaking to think such a tame animal was preyed on like that.”
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is urging anyone with information to call game wardesn Brady May at 918-431-2552, Tony Clark at 918-431-2562, or Cpt. Joe Adair at 918-431-2543.
The story is reminiscent of the worldwide scorn that erupted in July 2015, when Cecil the lion was illegally killed after being lured out of a game preserve in Zimbabwe. A Minnesota dentist and big game hunter, Walter Palmer, had to deflect death threats he received for killing the animal, who was well known to visitors of the park and was involved in a larger research study from Oxford University.
Palmer, who had a permit, has not been charged in the poaching, but two men in Zimbabwe who were involved in guiding him to Cecil are being prosecuted. Palmer will not be allowed to hunt in Zimbabwe again.
Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society told The New York Times that the death of Cecil had “changed the atmospherics on the issue of trophy hunting around the world,” and that it “gave less wiggle room to regulators.”
Although it’s too late for animals like Hollywood and Cecil, the deaths of these furry celebrities will have effects on the public’s knowledge how big game hunting and poaching are affecting animal populations, and may spark regulators to enact more stringent restrictions.