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Elk In A Tangle

Rick Spowart administers a wake up drug to the elk after their antlers were separated.  All photos by EP Police Officer Tyson Russell

Rick Spowart administers a wake up drug to the elk after their antlers were separated. All photos by EP Police Officer Tyson Russell

By: Kris Hazelton

On Saturday, October 18, Estes Park Police Department and the Colorado Division of Wildlife were called to the 9 Hole Golf Course on a report that two bull elk were locked together, entangled by their antlers.

Upon arrival, CDOW Wildlife Managers Rick Spowart and Aimee Ryel assessed the situation and determined that these two bulls were not going to be able to untangle themselves without human intervention.

Rick stated, “Sadly, in my years with the CDOW, I’ve seen several times, two dead bull elk that had gotten caught up with their antlers, and couldn’t untangle themselves and both died as a result. I’ve also seen two entangled bulls with one that had died and the other living bull having the burden of dragging around a dead bull attached to his antlers, it is such a tragic situation.”

According to Spowart, “In this situation, one of the bulls had a piece of antler that had grown backwards and in a hook-like, circular fashion. The other large bull he sparred with, had gotten a thick part of his antler stuck deep into that circular part and there was no way they were going to be able to separate without some help.”
Rick continued, “After discussing this, we decided the only way to rescue them was to tranquilize them at the same time and hope that they went down about the same time so we could untangle their antlers while they slept. I had a Saws-All in my truck and gathered that and my other supplies, while the tranquilizer worked. We didn’t want them to be too deeply tranquilized, tranquilizing elk can always be risky and they were near the water and both animals were very distressed at this point.”

As the tranquilizer took effect, much to their rescuers chagrin, the two bulls slowly moved closer and closer to the shore of the river. Rick stated he was afraid that the bulls would fall asleep and fall down and might drown in the river before they could be rescued. When the elk went down, Rick and Aimee had their work cut out for them. Luckily, some helpful volunteer firefighters and golf course personnel on scene offered to helped to place the sleeping elk’s heads above water, on the shore so Rick could concentrate on the entanglement.

Onlookers, even those who aren’t particularly fond of the elk in Estes Park, were visibly moved by this horrible situation. It was a dire situation, and the fate of the elk was in the hands of the CDOW who ended up being heroes for these two animals.

Rick quickly sawed the portion of antler off where the entanglement was. (this does not hurt the animal in any way). After he sawed through as much as he could of the antler, he was able to break off a small, four inch piece of antler where the elk were entangled then freed the two bulls from each other and from certain death.

The bull’s heads were then laid on to the edge of the river so they could breathe freely on the shoreline as the rescuers and helpers watched and waited. Spowart tagged each elk’s ears, marking them as having been tranquilized and then Spowart gave them each a drug to wake them from their slumber.

The elk both woke up shortly thereafter and Rick observed their behavior and hopes that the stress of the incident doesn’t cost either elk their life. He said, “Sometimes, after a stressful incident like this, elk can die from the trauma. I hope they they hadn’t been hooked together too long and that they can overcome this event and live a normal life.”
Watching the bulls walk away, and knowing that they likely saved them from a slow death was definitely one of those moments that makes Rick and Aimee’s  jobs rewarding.

Thank you Rick and Aimee and the others who helped avert a tragic event.

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