Since July of 2019 wildlife officers — and concerned residents — in Colorado have been watching an elk wander the wilderness with a tire dangling from its neck like an ill-fitting necklace.
Repeatedly, officials have tried to tranquilize the 600-pound animal and pull off the tire.
On Saturday, they finally did it. And, Colorado Parks and Wildlife documented the incredible effort.
“It was tight removing it,” wildlife officer Scott Murdoch said in a statement Sunday. “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. Fortunately, the bull’s neck still had a little room to move.”
The four-and-a-half-year-old animal had five points on each of its antlers, which had to be removed as part of the delicate rescue operation.
“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,” Murdoch added.
And that’s exactly what they did.
The saga of the bull elk with a tire around its neck is over. Thanks to the residents just south of Pine Junction on CR 126 for reporting its location, wildlife officers were able to free it of that tire Saturday.— CPW NE Region (@CPW_NE) October 11, 2021
📸's courtesy of Pat Hemstreet pic.twitter.com/OcnceuZrpk
The elk was first spotted two years ago by conservation officer Jared Lamb who was surveying bighorn sheep and mountain goats in the Mount Evans area.
This is what he saw through his scope at the time.
After that a few more sightings came in.
And then came some trail camera video and other images of the bull elk lugging around that tire.
Here is some video of this bull elk over the past two years. pic.twitter.com/R6t9nNPOyb— CPW NE Region (@CPW_NE) October 11, 2021
Officials were never exactly sure how it got there.
Wildlife officer Murdoch, who ultimately helped remove the tire, described the possibilities in a YouTube video posted in August, 2020.
The tire could have been used as a feeding bin.
It might have slipped on when the animal was young and just never shook off.
It could have got there in winter, when the elk shed their antlers, but then became a permanent fixture once the antlers grew. Or, perhaps, the elk just stuck its head into a stack of tires and one just never came off.
But this month, things started to look more promising for the animal as it was being frequently spotted.
Saturday night was the fourth attempt wildlife officers made just in the last week to tranquilize the bull.
Wildlife officers Dawson Swanson was in an area where a sighting had been made earlier in the day. He found the animal in a herd and managed to dart it. When Murdoch arrived the two of them went to work.
“Tranquilizer equipment is a relatively short-range tool and given the number of other elk moving together along with other environmental factors, you really need to have things go in your favor to have a shot or opportunity pan out,” Swanson said.
They found the troubled bull knocked out in the woods not far from Pine Junction on private property off County Road 126.
“Due to a number of factors, including the bull’s physical condition related to the rut, the tranquilizer effectiveness was minimized. I contacted (Murdoch) and along with some further assistance from neighbors, we were able to remove the tire and the bull was back on his feet within a matter of a few minutes after administering a reversal (to wake it from the sedation),” Swanson said.
The wildlife officers figure the elk lost about 35 pounds between its freshly cut antlers and the tire.
“The tire was full of wet pine needles and dirt,” Murdoch explained. “So the pine needles, dirt and other debris basically filled the entire bottom half of the tire. There was probably 10 pounds of debris in the tire.”
Despite the two-year ordeal, the animal itself was in pretty good shape.
“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,” Murdoch added. “I was actually quite shocked to see how good it looked.”
And officials remind people who live around wildlife to keep their yard free of things that can tangle, trip or tie them up.
“Wildlife officers have seen deer, elk, moose, bears and other wildlife become entangled in a number of man-made obstacles that include swing sets, hammocks, clothing lines, decorative or holiday lighting, furniture, tomato cages, chicken feeders, laundry baskets, soccer goals or volleyball nets, and yes, tires,” the parks and wildlife department said.