September 23, 2004
Last modified September 23, 2004 - 12:35 am
Park cuts off elk's antlers after attacks
By MIKE STARK
Of The Gazette Staff
A 700-pound bull elk that injured two people and damaged several vehicles in Yellowstone National Park had his antlers cut off earlier this week.
The rambunctious elk rammed at least a dozen vehicles, causing $12,000 to $15,000 damage, gored a tourist who got too close and charged a park employee.
He was tranquilized Monday and had his 6 by 7 point antler rack removed. It may have been the first time such action has been taken in Yellowstone.
"This was an extremely unusual situation," said Al Nash, a Yellowstone spokesman.
On Sunday morning, a 60-year-old Texas man got within 10 feet of the bull near Terrace Grill at Mammoth. He took a flash photo of the elk and then turned and walked away. The startled bull put his head down and charged the man. The man turned around just as the elk struck him head-on. He sustained cuts and bruises to his head, chest and hands, according to park officials.
Park rules require that people stay at least 25 yards away from elk, bison and other large animals.
"We had a visitor who didn't follow the guidelines that we offer, got himself too close to a big animal and he got hurt because of it," Nash said.
Sunday night, the bull charged a park employee, who sustained bruises and strained muscles.
Attacking vehicles, too
The elk also attacked six vehicles on Sunday at Mammoth, adding to the six he had damaged earlier, park officials said.
Elk in Yellowstone are in the midst of the fall mating season, a time when males and females become more aggressive. Bulls often clash with the sharpened tines of their antlers and sometimes spar with trees and cars.
"There are the normal levels (of aggressiveness) and then there are actions of this particular bull," Nash said. "That prompted us to try to come up with a solution."
There was some discussion of relocating the elk but that is often unsuccessful, according to park officials. Euthanizing the bull was not discussed, Nash said.
After the elk's antlers were removed Monday, volunteers kept an eye on the bull to make sure he understood he was missing his primary weapons and did not try to pick a fight with a more well-armed rival. The elk has been spotted several times since being released Monday.
Wildlife officials said it's likely the bull won't breed for the rest of the mating season because he's lost his best ability to challenge other males. It's possible he mated earlier this season. He had been seen with a harem in the past, Nash said.
The bull, like most, will likely return with a fresh set of antlers next year.
"This just reinforces the fact that we need to keep people at a safe distance. These animals are beautiful and we love them but 700 pounds of upset bull elk with a big rack is something to be respected," Nash said.