Be Careful-It’s Elk Calving Season
By: Kris Hazelton
Colorado Division of Wildlife Volunteer
The new baby elk are now being born in the Estes Valley. With these births and the proximity of the elk population to Estes Park residents and visitors, here are a few words of caution and some things we should be aware of, to prevent any potentially harmful human/elk encounters.
Last spring, a cow elk gave birth to a calf on East Riverside Drive and this protective mother wasn’t about to let anyone come anywhere near her newborn baby. She charged anyone who happened to be strolling down the path or walking down the side of the road. It was potentially a very dangerous situation.
Residents in the area called the Estes Park Police Department who arrived on scene and accessed the situation. The mother elk was very intent on protecting her baby, who was resting on the riverbank nearby.
Police officers decided the best thing to do was to temporarily close off the park and walking trail, giving the mother some space, allowing her to feel that the area was safe for her newborn calf. EVRPD personnel arrived and posted warning signs and fenced the perimeter.
The mother and calf remained in the park for several days, and if anyone got too close to the fence, the mother let them know under no uncertain terms that they were in “her territory.”
According to Rick Spowart, Wildlife Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife here are some helpful tips in case you happened to run into a female elk trying to protect her new baby.
Rick says, “In the next few weeks there are going to many new elk calves born in and around town. The mother’s are not being aggressive when defending their young, just protective. It’s our responsibility to be aware and not get too close to the baby or the mother. If you encounter a protective mother, the best thing to do, is to back away quickly. Don’t turn your back on her, as you won’t know if she is charging you. Make yourself look large. If you have a jacket, raise it above your head, and swing it around, make yourself look formidable. Chances are the mother will be glad you’re leaving their space. However, if she continues to pursue you, check around for a stick and if one is available, pick it up and throw the stick at her or give her a whack on her nose to drive her away.”
Rick also advised “If she is an especially protective mother and charges you to the point of knocking you down, curl up in the fetal position and protect your head and neck with your arms and hands. Chances are she’ll give you a couple of thumps with her legs and then leave you alone, not seeing you as a potential threat anymore.”
If you happen to be walking or jogging with a dog, the elk will be even more on alert and aggressive towards your dog. She will see your pet as a real threat, a predator to her baby. The best thing to do in this case is to let your dog go for the time, and save yourself. The elk will most likely chase off your dog and you can retrieve him a bit further down the trail.
Rick added that “People need to be aware that this is the elk calving season. Although the elk are used to seeing people, the elk are very much still wild animals.” Rick said, “The best advise I can give is if you’re taking a walk on the lake trail, and happen to find the trail is closed, heed the warning and walk the other way. On the same note, if you are anywhere and come across a female elk who is acting strangely, sometimes they grit their teeth, their ears go back and they look very wide-eyed, walk the other way, it’s not worth getting injured!” Adult elk, both male and female, are very large and can be dangerous, particularly if they think a person is threatening their territory or offspring.
Another important note, if you find a baby elk or mule deer, please never, ever go near or touch it. Even though it could appear that its mother is absent, elk calves are seldom orphaned, and its mother is probably feeding only a short distance away. She’ll make herself known very quickly when you get too close!
If you come across a protective female elk, and she is endangering people in a public area, the best thing to do is move away and call the Estes Park Police Department Dispatch Center at 586-4000. They will notify the proper authorities who will temporarily close off the area until the mother moves on with her calf. Educating ourselves and our visitors about wildlife issues is the right thing to do, especially around calving time and during the fall rut. Remember, there’s a reason it’s called wildlife.