NDOW Called to Separate Stuck Elk

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Two heads are usually better than one, just not in this case.

Recently, two bull elk were spotted in Indian Valley in central Nevada with a peculiar problem. It seems the animals' antlers had become so entangled while sparring they were unable to separate themselves and had been stuck together for over a week. Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) staff were ultimately called in to tranquilize and physically separate the two animals.

According to NDOW biologist Tom Donham, a rancher in Reese River Valley reported the two elk to local authorities November 21. "Then they (the ranchers) were up there the next day and couldn't find the elk. They assumed they must have separated by themselves and didn't think any more about it," said Donham. A week later the rancher was again in Indian Valley searching for some of his cows, when he saw the two elk and noticed they were still stuck together. This time he called NDOW. Donham, Game Warden Brian Eller and Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist Bryson Code headed out to see what might be done.

When the three men arrived in Indian Valley on November 29 a full week had passed since the two elk first became entangled. "When we arrived where the rancher had last seen them, we found them pretty quickly. They were both lying on the ground and one of them was in a very uncomfortable looking position with his head directly above the others head and his nose pointing straight up to the sky," said Donham.

Eller reports he was just hoping the animals were still alive as they approached the elk. “"Once we found out they were alive, I was hoping they couldn't move and would stay where they were. That didn’t happen. When they ran off, I was hoping that they could not go very far. That didn't happen either," he added.

The elk may have been sparring to start their adventure, but Donham and Eller report they used teamwork to run for nearly a mile to evade the three newcomers. "As Brian and I approached, they both got to their feet and ran down the canyon while locked together like they had been doing it all their lives; serious cooperation if I've ever seen it," said Donham.

After two unsuccessful attempts, Donham was able to get a tranquilizer dart into one of the elk. With one bull down, the other could not run. He was also tranquilized in order to separate the two. Although tranquilized, the second elk did not receive a full dose as the cold weather had started to affect the darts. Eller and Code helped hold the elk down while Donham sawed an antler off of one of the bulls with a hand saw.

"As soon as they were apart, the bull that had not received a full dose jumped to his feet and Bryson, Brian and I quickly gave him all the room he wanted. He went off about 30 yards and lay down for about 10 minutes before finally walking up the hill and over the ridge, none the worse for wear," said Donham. The other elk was treated with antibiotics and eventually walked off after the tranquilizer had worn off.

Despite the happy ending, Donham realizes that it could have ended much worse. "If these two bulls had not been discovered, and we never got the call, they more than likely would have both died. Watching the bulls walk away, and knowing that we likely saved them from a slow death was definitely one of those moments that makes this job rewarding."

Russ Mason, NDOW Game Bureau Chief, said that the Department handles a situation such as this once or twice a year.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, and promotes fishing, hunting, boating safety and wildlife related activities. NDOW's wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen's license and conservation fees and a federal tax on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. For more information, visit www.ndow.org.