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Elk Tussle with Backyard Items and Window Wells
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A bull elk got entangled in a backyard swing. PHOTO: Terry Thompson
   
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Three elk learned over the weekend that necklaces of baling twine and disks aren’t becoming an elk.

Wood River Valley homeowners are being encouraged to remove swings, hammocks and other apparatus from their yards that could spell trouble for wintering elk.

At least four incidents of elk becoming entangled or trapped in window wells were reported Friday, Jan. 7, in the southern part of the Wood River Valley, according to Terry Thompson regional communications manager for Idaho Fish and Game.

 
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An elk trapped in a window well. PHOTO: Idaho Fish and Game
 

  • A cow elk wearing a disk around its neck was reported the morning of Friday, Jan. 7. Senior Conservation Officer Brandyn Hurd located the elk but it moved into a large herd of elk, making it impossible to dart with anesthesia drugs so that the disk could be removed. The elk will be monitored.
  • A bull elk with baling twine wrapped around its antlers was reported just hours later. Thompson said the twine is not a threat to the bull’s health. Since its antlers will fall off in the coming weeks, no action was taken.
  • A bull elk that had become entangled in a horse halter and lead rope was reported later that day. Wildlife biologists were able to anesthetize the elk with a dart to remove the halter and lead from its neck and antlers.
  • Finally, a cow elk fell into a window well of a Hailey home and was unable to get out. Three local conservation officers worked together with the homeowner to remove the elk from the well.

These incidents are a reminder to wildlife-proof homes and barns and cover window wells, said Hurd.

“Wildlife can easily get entangled in this equipment, which puts the animal at risk. But it also puts the Fish and Game team at risk when using drugs to anesthetize the animal and working to free them,” he said.

One bull elk nearly drowned in the Big Wood River last winter after the hammock wrapped around its antlers became saturated with water, which weighed down the elk, recounted Thompson. Several weeks later, another bull elk had to be anesthetized to remove several feet of rope and wood from its head.

 
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This is what it looked like in 2015 when an elk was challenged by a basement gymnasium. PHOTO: Idaho Fish and Game
 

Big game animals like deer, elk and moose are especially susceptible to entanglement in ropes, swings, wires, cords and strings of lights because of their antlers. And they can sometimes asphyxiate, die from exhaustion or injure themselves trying to get free, he added.

Homeowners should cover window wells with either a metal fabricated cover or wood planks. Clearing snow from around window wells to provide a pathway will also help elk and moose avoid falling in the wells since they generally follow the path of least resistance under the eaves of a house, which inadvertently leads them to the window wells, Thompson said.

At least three elk and moose have been trapped in window wells since 2015. In 2015 one elk made its way into a Hailey basement game room, and during the heavy snows of 2017 a moose and elk were trapped inside homes after falling into window wells.

Both elk were able to be walked out of the houses, while the moose had to be anesthetized and carried out, Thompson said.

 
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The moose roughed up the carpet a bit when he tried to escape after getting trapped in a window well. PHOTO: Idaho Fish and Game
 

Questions? Visit the Wood River Valley Wildlife Smart Communities website at www.wrvsmartcommunities.org. Or, call the Magic Valley Regional Office of Idaho Fish and Game at 208-324-4359.

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