Calf recovering at Born Free after being captured in Rita Valentine Park | SteamboatToday.com

Calf recovering at Born Free after being captured in Rita Valentine Park

— Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager Steve Baumgartner and Tracy Bye, who runs the Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Steamboat Springs, are both hoping to make the best of a bad situation.

"That is my best hope, and it is what I'm praying for," Bye said Monday when asked if a recently born bull elk will make a successful return to the wild.

The calf was caught in Rita Valentine Park Sunday at about 11 a.m. Baumgartner said he was able to draw the young calf with an elk call and then neighbors of the park helped surrounded the young animal until it could be secured.

"We were able to grab it and haul it off to Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Center this time," Baumgartner said.

Longtime wildlife officer Jim Haskins said this is not an ideal situation. Colorado Parks and Wildlife would have preferred to leave the elk in Rita Valentine Park for the next few weeks instead of separating them. However, the situation was so bad that Baumgartner and Haskins worried about the safety of the public.

"She was incredibly aggressive," Baumgartner said. "Both myself and Jim (Haskins) had witnessed the elk running a long ways to go after people."

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The cow elk was tranquilized and relocated to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area on Thursday evening, but officials were unable to capture the calf at the same time.

"For that to happen, everything would have had to have gone perfectly, and that rarely happens," Haskins said.

Once the mother was down, Bye said Parks and Wildlife personnel had to move quickly to get the mother to her new location in the Flat Tops to be released. Officials decided on the area because the elk will have limited contact with humans.

"Part of the reality of living in nature is that the young don't always survive, and that the young don't always make it to adult animals. It's a harsh reality,” Baumgartner said. “This cow will be just fine and getting split up from her calves is not the end of the world for her. She will reproduce next fall, and she will have new calves next year. Hopefully, she will do it in a place that's not visited by humans."

As for the calf, Haskins said the situation is less than ideal, but like Bye, he is hopeful that the animal will return to the wild this fall and lead a productive life.

"The elk is in great condition," Bye said. "But he is very, very stressed and just needs some peace and quiet right now. He is super afraid of people."

Bye said the calf is eating, and she is hopeful that she will be able to get more food and much-needed milk into the pen in the next few days without upsetting the animal. She is doing everything possible to limit the amount of stress by leaving the elk alone as much as possible.

She is confident that she will be able to care for the animal over the next few months and prepare it for a return to the wild this fall. She is hoping that it can be released in November, after rifle season, when its chances at survival are the best.

Parks and Wildlife officials are continuing to monitor Rita Valentine Park for a second calf, but there have been no confirmed sightings in the area.

Baumgartner, who was in the park Monday searching, said he will continue to patrol the area and use an elk call to try to lure the animal over the next few days.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966