12 Nov 2013

Elk Beats Up Photographer

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The Park Service restored a herd of elk in 2001 to the Catalochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Last month, a young bull elk, inflamed by the rut, decided to treat a human photographer as a rival for female elks’ affections.

Montana Outdoor Radio passed along the story from Go Smokies:

I saw a very unusual sight in Cataloochee Sunday morning. There were about twenty people lined up along the road watching and photographing a bull elk and his harem of about ten cows and three calves. Everyone was being very quiet and truly enjoying the sights and sounds of a beautiful Fall day in the Smokies.

Movement caught my attention to my right and there sitting on the pavement about seventy-five yards up the road from me was a spike elk sparring with a photographer. The spike had apparently come out of the woods behind the man and wanted to do a little sparring. I turned my camera and began recording the session.

The man lowered his head to avoid eye contact and covered his face with his arms while the spike placed the crown of his head between his antlers against the man’s head and began turning back and forth. The man protected himself as best he could with his arms while clutching his camera and this went on for several minutes.

Each time the spike stopped and backed up a few steps the man would look up and the spike would begin again. The man did not appear to be suffering injuries but the spike would not stop. Finally, a white car approached and turned toward the spike who backed up just long enough for the man to rise to his feet. When the man got up the spike moved toward him and lowered his head like he would charge. The driver of the car approached the spike closer and the man was able to get in the car.

Montana Outdoor Radio asked: “Have you ever seen anything like this in areas out west where the elk are used to people?”

Yes. Some years ago, Karen and I saw California idiots trying to pet a female Roosevelt elk from the Elk Meadows herd near Orick, California. As the human family advanced, the elk looked more and more alarmed, and it was easy to see that if that elk ever decided she was cornered, she was going to stomp or kick some of the offending humans good and proper. Fortunately for them, the elk found herself an exit from the crowd closing in on her, and trotted away. But there was certainly a real possibility for someone to have seriously hurt.

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2 Feedbacks on "Elk Beats Up Photographer"

Gary Poteat

Several Septembers ago in Estes Park, CO, we were staying in a “Colorado cabin” a few moments from the National Park entrance. We were eating dinner on the (screened) front porch when a large bull elk and 20 or so cows entered the yard and started browsing. The bull was about 10 feet away and seemed to be oblivious to our presence while we were sitting at the table. I picked up my camera and knelt down (still inside the porch) to snap a picture through the screen. The bull raised his head from the grass he was eating, saw me at roughly his eye level, snorted and charged in an instant.
We retreated into the cabin and he decided not to crash through screen at the last instant. Rutting bulls are not to be trifled with.
I have had many encounters with elk while hiking and sometimes had to pass close to cows with calves simply because they were content with where they were feeding and the ground was too rough to give them too wide a berth. A slow, careful, deliberate pace (making sure they were aware of your presence) has always allowed safe passage. However, we do always try to keep some sort of barrier between us and the animals. However, watching closely for any sign of skittishness and ensuring you do not inadvertently threatening them is necessary. Sometimes you simply have to wait until they move on. Remembering that you are the guest in their home is a good general guide to behavior.
We once came across a elk nursery. There were about 20 bedded-down calves with two very alert adult cows on guard while the rest of the mothers feed nearby. We gave that group as wide berth as possible although even mountain goat would have had to get closer than we wished.
In Moraine Park on September mornings, the big bulls gather to bugle and build harems. I have sat on top of (very large) boulders and watched and listened as the bulls bugled threats at each other as the sun rose. If you sat quietly until the sun was fully up, the dominate bulls would move well out into the pasture with the cows and the wannabe bulls would head for the trees giving you the evil eye as they passed your high perch. You could safety exit after a discreet wait.
In my mind, the most dangerous place to encounter animals in near a road or parking lot. The animals are nervous from all the strange noises and smells and often have few clear paths to safety. In remote areas, they are feel more in control of situation and more at ease, in my experience. Simply stopping, and giving them time to decide to move away from you is sufficient (but be sure you know where you will retreat if necessary). Never walk towards any animal, ever, even small deer as they are much more dangerous than you might think if they feel threatened.
Even potential predators (such as bears) have always (with one exception) seemed as happy as I was not to get very close.
Anyone who spends much time well away from the trail heads will see a lot of animals. However, national parks are not petting zoos and while there is no reason to fear the residents, you should always respect them.



Lazarus Long

Back in ’88 during the Yellowstone Fire my crew was hiking out to fire camp after several days on the line. In mid-afternoon we took a short nap in some soft grass under the trees. At that point a herd of about 20 elk trotted downhill through the dozing firefighters. They deftly walked around us all.



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