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Numerous Elk Die After Falling Through Ice in Colorado

January 2, 2009.

From the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

More than a dozen elk have died after falling through thin ice at Paonia Reservoir since Sunday, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
"This is unfortunate and a difficult circumstance, but it is not unusual in Colorado during the winter," said J Wenum, area wildlife manager in the Gunnison area. "We usually get a few reports like this every winter from areas near rivers or lakes. Normally it's only one or two animals, not large groups."
On the evening of Sunday, Dec. 28, the Colorado State Patrol received a call from a concerned citizen who reported seeing elk in the reservoir. A Division of Wildlife officer arrived at the scene about 9 p.m. and confirmed that there were eight elk in the water, about 80 yards from the nearest bank. All the animals had succumbed to the cold water and were dead.
On the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 30, the DOW received two calls reporting more elk in the reservoir. A DOW officer responded and found 11 elk in the water, five of which were barely alive. The officer euthanized those animals.
"There really isn't anything we can do in that type of situation," Wenum said. "Access is limited, the bank is very steep and there was no way to approach or pull animals out of the water. The animals are likely hypothermic and panicked. Unfortunately, there are multiple factors working against the elk."
During winter, elk move in large herds. The reservoir is a source of drinking water for elk in that area. Apparently, numerous animals moved toward the reservoir at the same time. Some ice had formed, but it was not thick enough to hold the weight of the animals. Depending on their age and sex, individual elk can range in size from about 300 pounds to about 900 pounds.
DOW officials urge citizens who may see wildlife trapped on ice or struggling in the water to resist the urge to extricate the animals. Big game animals are powerful and unpredictable. Persons who attempt to cross ice to provide assistance are at significant risk of becoming victims themselves. Anyone who witnesses this type of event should to call a DOW office or a local law enforcement agency. These types of incidents occur throughout Colorado during the winter.
Paonia Reservoir is located along Colo. Highway 133 in Gunnison County about 15 miles northeast of the town of Paonia. The reservoir is an impoundment on the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

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