Elk Attacks Woman

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A protective mother elk attacked and seriously injured a 71-year-old Estes Park woman late Monday afternoon after she unknowingly came too close to its calf.

"The woman went out to do some gardening in her back yard, and she got too close to the calf elk, which was in hiding," said Rick Spowart, wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife's Estes Park district. "She also didn't see the cow elk, which approached her from behind and started stomping on her."

The woman, who has been hospitalized with abdominal injuries, is in guarded but good condition, according to hospital officials.

The incident is the fourth this year between people and elk in Estes Park, although it is the first time someone has been injured. But it?s calving season, so people need to take extra precautions to avoid confrontations. That's especially true in areas like Estes Park and Evergreen, where elk live in close proximity to people.

People should never feed or approach wildlife (feeding big game is illegal in Colorado), which makes wildlife more accustomed to people - and more dangerous. Elk or any animal that is used to seeing people loses its natural fear.

Most elk calves are born in late May or early June, so the next few weeks will require special caution for anyone living or visiting areas where there may be elk. "The mother elk was protecting her young, likely less than a week old. This could happen anywhere there are elk," Spowart said. "We've had to close down the Lake Estes bike and walking trail this year - same as almost every year - because of the calving activity. Recently, we had a guy chased around a tree by an elk. We need to keep some distance and stay out of their comfort zone, especially during calving."

"Sometimes people get way too close to an animal to get that perfect photo, or they see a calf and have to touch it or 'rescue' it," Spowart said. "But not only is it bad for the calf, it's very dangerous for the person. A 450-pound cow with cloven hooves or 700-pound bull with long tines can cause serious injuries, or death."

The same goes for moose, which also are calving right now.

If you see a cow elk or moose this time of year, it is especially important to give them a wide berth. Also, keep your dog on a leash if you are in a calving area.

"We've had lots of problems on bike paths where people are walking their dogs, and a mother elk definitely looks at dogs as predators," Spowart said. "They'll chase the dog and stomp on it, as well as you. Often the dog returns to its owner with the cow elk following it."