October 13, 2021
A bull elk that had been running around the Colorado wilderness with an old tire around his neck the past two years has finally been set free.
On Saturday, Oct. 9, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers were able to tranquilize the 600-pound elk and remove the tire, ending a saga that began in July 2019, when officers first became aware of the animal. The elk had been tracked and spotted several times since in Park and Jefferson counties, disappearing for long periods of time in between, particularly in the winter.
During the rescue, wildlife officers Dawson Swanson and Scott Murdoch cut off the elk's antlers to remove the tire, which despite ringing its neck for so long, left remarkably little mark. "The hair was rubbed off a little bit, there was one small open wound maybe the size of a nickel or quarter, but other than that it looked really good," Murdoch said in a CPW account of the rescue. "I was actually quite shocked to see how good it looked."
The elk had five points on each antler beam and is believed to be 4 1/2 years old. It was tranquilized and the tire was removed around 8 p.m. Saturday night about one mile south of Pine Junction in central Colorado.
The wildlife agency believes the elk likely acquired the tire before it had antlers when it was very young, or when it shed its antlers during the winter. When the tire was removed, it had about 10 pounds or more of wet pine needles and dirt inside.
The Elk Saga Begins
Wildlife officer Jared Lamb first saw the distressed bull while on a population survey of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and mountain goats in the Mountains Evans Wilderness in July 2019, the agency said. Lamb saw the elk through a spotting scope; it appeared to be around 2 years old.
More sightings came over the next year, including three trail-cam images (two of them near Conifer, Colo.) in the summer of 2020.
"Being up in the wilderness, we didn’t really expect to be able to get our hands on the elk just because of the proximity or the distance away from civilization," Murdoch said. "It is harder to get the further they are back in there and usually the further these elk are away from people, the wilder they act. That certainly played true the last couple of years, this elk was difficult to find, and harder to get close to."
Four attempts were made in May and June 2021 to catch up with the bull in the Pleasant Park area of Conifer. More sightings were reported in September and October near Pine, Colo.
Despite wearing the tire for so long, the elk "was acting as expected from a wild animal, not wanting to be around human presence," the agency said.
"In the winter we weren't getting any reports of him," Murdoch said. "In the springtime, we would get an occasional report or see him in a little bachelor herd. The rut definitely made him more visible. There was a bigger bull in the group he was with on Saturday, but he is getting to be a decent-size bull."
Fourth Time the Charm
Saturday's rescue was the fourth attempt in a week to tranquilize the elk. Responding to a sighting from earlier in the day, Swanson found the bull in a group of elk and was able to get into position to tranquilize it.
"Tranquilizer equipment is a relatively short-range tool and given the number of other elk moving together along with other environmental factors, you really need to have things go in your favor to have a shot or opportunity pan out," Swanson said. "I was able to get within range a few times that evening. However, other elk or branches blocked any opportunities. It was not until shortly before dark that everything came together and I was able to hit the bull with the dart. Once the bull was hit with the dart, the entire herd headed back into the thick timber. This is where I was able to find the bull."
- Watch: CPW video (below) about the rescue
With help from Murdoch and local residents, Swanson said the tire was removed and the elk was back on its feet "within a matter of a few minutes" after the tranquilizer reversal was administered.
Murdoch said it was difficult removing the tire even with cutting the antlers. Officers couldn't cut the tire because of the steel in the inner ring of the tire.
"We would have preferred to cut the tire and leave the antlers for his rutting activity, but the situation was dynamic and we had to just get the tire off in any way possible."
The saga provides a lesson for humans living responsibly among wildlife. Animals can be injured or entangled in man-made obstacles like "swing sets, hammocks, clothing lines, holiday lighting, furniture, tomato cages, chicken feeders, laundry baskets, soccer goals or volleyball nets, and yes, tires," the CPW said. Wildlife officers have seen instances where people feed animals who come in and put their heads in things and then walk away with them on their heads.
Read more about this incredible story on the CPW website