An elk that suffered for half its life with a tire stuck around its neck is now free. This week, wildlife officials in Colorado reported that they were able to corral the beleaguered beast long enough to get the tire off. The incident should be a reminder to clean up the environments we share with these important animals, they say.
The male elk (also called a bull) was first spotted with its tiresome problem in July 2019, during a population survey of bighorn sheep and mountain goats in the Mount Evans Wilderness, an area 40 miles outside of Denver, Colorado. Because of the region’s remoteness, it was thought unlikely that the elk could be helped at the time. Cameras and humans did occasionally report seeing the animal over the next two years, but it seemed wary of humans and would disappear from sight for long stretches of time.
During May to June 2021, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers made several attempts to rescue the elk, now estimated to be around 4.5 years old, but came up short. More recently, the elk was spotted near the town of Pine, possibly due to it being breeding season (also called rutting season, for elks). And on Saturday evening, officials were finally able to find and temporarily sedate the creature so that they could remove the tire.
Unfortunately, they decided that they couldn’t simply cut the tire off due to its steel lining. So they opted to remove the elk’s antlers and then slide the tire off that way, which was still no easy feat. The elk seemed to have little visible injury to his neck, though, despite the tire weighing around 35 pounds, which included about 10 pounds of gunk that had gotten stuck in its crevice over time. After waking up, the elk looked no worse for wear and scampered back into the wild.
“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,” wildlife officer Scott Murdoch Murdoch said in a statement announcing the rescue. “I was actually quite shocked to see how good it looked.”
“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,” he added.
It’s likely the elk got caught in the tire when he was very young, before his antlers came in, or during the winter, when they fall off. While not known in this case, it’s also possible that humans may have encouraged the animal to poke his head into the tire in order to get food, since wildlife officers have reported seeing similar incidents in the past.
Elk, deer, and other wildlife that live near urban areas have been known to get stuck in tires, hammocks and other assorted equipment. The Parks and Wildlife team hopes that this story will remind people to keep their backyards free of things that animals can get tangled in.