14 Jun 2009, 3:32pm
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Thirty-six elk plunge to death

Over 150-200 foot rock face on Carter Mountain west of Meeteetse, Wyoming

By Echo Renner, Wyoming Livestock Roundup, Pinedale Online, April 28, 2009 [here]

Thirty-six head of elk plunged to their death over a 150 – 200 foot rim rock on Carter Mountain west of Meeteetse in January. Horn hunters discovered the carcasses last month, and reported it to area landowners, Scott and Marjorie Justice.

“We set up a spotting scope and could see ravens and birds in the area. We called the game warden, and went up with him,” explains Scott Justice.

Jim Olson, Meeteetse area Game Warden with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGF) says they discovered the elk carcasses at the base of the rock face. One cow elk got stuck on the way down, and remains there. “There were seven yearling males, 12 adult females, 10 calves, and seven unknown that slid down over another cliff,” says Olson. “The cliff is near where the elk normally travel through a chute in the rim rock. The calf ratio was high and I believe young animals were leading charge, and that’s why they missed. Something spooked them and they went over. It could have been wolves, helicopters, a storm - who knows.” He adds, “I have not seen this before in my career.”

Scott Justice describes, “The chute is right next to that cliff. It looked like some of the elk were still alive (after the fall) with broken legs, and wallowed around and died.” He continues, “We’ve seen up to 1,000 head of elk waiting there, and take over an hour to come single file down the chute during the evening to feed. Someone told me that was on old hand-dug stock trail where they used to trail domestic sheep off the mesa years ago. It’s broken now and real steep. It would be hard to get a horse down. My guess is those elk were all crowded around there, and wolves or something, spooked them over the cliff. …

Ed Bangs, Wolf Recovery Coordinator with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Helena says, “This kind of thing happens, and is more common than you think. It can be impossible to determined what happened if it had been awhile. It sure could have been wolves or other native predators that spooked a herd, but depending on how long ago it happened, my first line of investigation this time of year would be an avalanche. Wild animals die from accidents all the time. The most interesting thing is people would think wolves are somehow more responsible for these types of things than anything else - seeing the world through wolf-colored glasses I suppose. But, absolutely it could have been wolves. …

Dr. Charles Kay, Adjunct Professor at Utah State University, conducts unbiased research on wolves and other wildlife. Kay says, “Several years ago there was a large herd of antelope that ran over a cliff and were killed near Green River. I do not recall anything similar with elk, but it would not surprise me if wolves or a bear could spook a herd (in this manner).” …

Jim Allen of Lander, a long-time outfitter and President of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association (WYOGA) says, “Elk are incredibly agile and athletic. I’ve seen them go over a cliff I didn’t think a big horn sheep would go over. They had to be more afraid of what was chasing them than the cliff. I don’t think a grizzly was after them. They could maneuver away from a single grizzly, and grizzlies don’t travel in packs. It would be the same with a mountain lion. My opinion is wolves organized this effort, and did it very successfully.”

In October 2006, wolf researcher, Jim Akenson, was riding a mule on an icy mountain trail in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho, when he came upon a dead cougar. Suddenly, a pack of wolves materialized and began howling. For a terrifying moment, the 48-year-old biologist thought his startled mules were going to stampede and carry him off a 200-foot cliff. “It is the most precarious condition you can image, with wolves howling around you.” … [more]



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