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Please Heed Warning Signs When Trails Are Closed

By: Kris Hazelton

You know its springtime in the Rockies when the new elk calves begin to show up in the Estes Valley.

With the births of the elk calves and the proximity of the elk population to the Estes Park residents and visitors, there are a few words of caution we should all be aware of, to prevent any potentially harmful human/elk encounters.

Just this week in the bird sanctuary on the Lake Estes Trail, a cow elk was having difficulty giving birth.

Colorado Division of Wildlife personnel along with the help of  EPPD officers decided to tranquilize the elk and help her give birth. Unfortunately, the calf was stillborn and CDOW closed off the trail to let the cow elk wake up without worry of humans around. Despite the barriers, several people disregarded the warnings and signs posted that the trail was closed. The cow was needlessly disturbed at a time when she really just needed to wake up and recover without being disturbed. Please, if the barriers are up, they are up for a good reason and you should walk the other way.

In the next few weeks, there are going to be many new elk calves born in and around town and the cows will be on alert. The mothers are not being aggressive when defending their young, just protective. It’s our responsibility to not get too close to the baby or the mother.

Here are some helpful tips in case you happened to run into a situation where there is a protective mother elk nearby.

The best thing to do at this time of year is to be aware of your surroundings. The cows have calves all over town and you just never know when you’re going to happen to walk by a mother and calf.

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 if she approaches, give her a whack on her nose to drive her away.

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. She’ll most likely give you a couple of thumps with her legs and then leave you alone, not seeing you as a potential threat anymore.

Also, 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 the dog a bit further down the trail.

Although the elk are used to seeing people, the elk are very much still wild animals. The best advise 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. 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 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.

© 2014 Estes Park News, Inc

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