There are countless instances in which sea creatures get tangled in plastic waste; sadly, land animals also face the danger of man-made objects in their environments. In Colorado, a young elk spent two years with a rubber tire around its neck, until it was recently freed by wildlife officials.
It’s unknown how exactly the four-and-a-half-year-old bull elk managed to get a tire stuck around his neck, but it was integral to remove it as soon as possible. The burdened wild elk was first spotted in 2019 when officers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) were conducting a population survey of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and mountain goats in the Mount Evans Wilderness. The officers made it their mission to find the elk and remove the tire, but it was no easy feat.
“Being up in the wilderness, we didn’t really expect to be able to get our hands on the elk just because of the proximity or the distance away from civilization,” CPW officer Scott Murdoch said in a press release. “It is harder to get further they are back in there and usually the further these elk are away from people, the wilder they act. That certainly played true the last couple of years, this elk was difficult to find and harder to get close to.”
Since the initial sighting in 2019, the elk have been captured numerous times on trail cameras, still towing the tire. Although the tire didn’t seem to be hindering the elk’s ability to eat or drink, wildlife officials feared the animal would become tangled in trees, fencing, or even another elk’s antlers.
More video, courtesy of Pat Hemstreet, of the bull elk prior to when wildlife officers were able to remove the tire that was around its neck.
— CPW NE Region (@CPW_NE) October 11, 2021
It wasn’t until this year, when the elk and its herd moved towards residential areas, that newly reported sightings led to it finally being located by the wildlife officials. On Saturday, October 9—after four failed attempts that same week—Murdoch and CPW officer Dawson Swanson safely tranquilized the 600-pound animal, cut off its antlers, and removed the tire. “It was not easy for sure. We had to move it just right to get it off because we weren’t able to cut the steel in the bead of the tire,” Murdoch recalls.
“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.” Luckily, the elk will grow a new set of antlers by springtime. Swanson and Murdoch estimate that the elk lost 35 pounds with the removal of the tire since it was filled with around 10 pounds of debris.
Despite carrying the heavy load for two years, the elk were in surprisingly good condition and were back on their hooves in no time. “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,” says Murdoch. “I was actually quite shocked to see how good it looked.”
This story also serves as a reminder to dispose of trash responsibly. There’s no excuse for littering or even leaving trash or recycling outside without sealing it properly, as wildlife can mistake trash for food, get tangled in it, and more.