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A tour to see some of the tallest mountains and rarest animals in Oklahoma will be conducted Oct. 9 [SATURDAY] by Dr. Michael Hughes of East Central University.

The trip to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in western Oklahoma is the time to see and hear the refuge's elk during rutting season.

The tour will leave from ECU. At the refuge, the group will be conducted by bus into the closed and gated North Mountain Wilderness by a Fish and Wildlife Service environmental education specialist. Although spotting elk cannot be guaranteed, Hughes said the chances of seeing or hearing them is actually better at the refuge than at many national parks.

The trip also will offer the rare chance to see Mount Pinchot, the highest peak in the Wichita Mountains. Additional photo opportunities may include stops to see grazing bison and longhorn cattle, Prairie Dog Town, Panther Creek Canyon and Heart of the Wichitas.

The trip is the university's fourth wildlife tour and its second to North Mountain Wilderness. On the previous journey to the Wichitas, participants were treated to the sights of three bison calves coming up to the bus, a boulder covered with large Oklahoma collared lizards and an encounter with a kestrel or sparrowhawk.

At least two competing male elk were heard "bugling," a sound which Hughes describes as "an other-worldly sound that can raise the hair on the back of your neck."

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is the oldest wildlife refuge for large animals in the United States. Soon after its founding in 1901, it served as the breeding ground where the American bison was finally saved. Today, the 59,000-acre refuge protects more than 50 species of mammals and at least 240 species of birds, including the nearly extinct black-capped vireo.

The ECU trip is open to the public and requires pre-payment ($75) and pre-registration. Contact the ECU Center of Continuing Education and Community Services at 580-559-5456 for further information.

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