The “Townsite Elk,” an elk calf that was spotted in Townsite, Kimberley, has been safely transported to an animal rehabilitation centre in Golden thanks to the BC Conservation Office Service (BCCO), Kim Balcom, head animal rescuer for the East and West Kootenay, the neighbourhood and construction crew working there.
“We got the first report of him on Friday, July 24, that he was hanging out in that little patch of timber in that McDougall Townsite area, just behind that old heritage home, by the tennis court,” said Denny Chretien, Sergeant with the BCCO, based out of Cranbrook.
“I figured he might have been there since a little before that, maybe hiding out in there since Wednesday, judging by how much weight he’s losing. He’s just a little guy, but he’s bigger than normal.”
Kim Balcom had been in contact with the BCCO with the locations of the elk. She, along with the rest of the Townsite community, helped keep an eye on it.
Chretien suspects it — calling it an it because they’re unsure if it’s a male or female — was most likely born in early May. Elk can birth calves from May to mid July.
When Chretien first saw the report, he had an officer attend the situation to take a look, but they didn’t see it at first as it was hunkered down in the bushes.
The detour on McDougall Crescent caused by the construction in Townsite encircled the patch of bush the elk was in, and he was stuck there.
“How he got there, it must have happened at night,” Chretien said. “Either the herd went through Lois Creek, and they followed that drainage, and either this little animal got separated or dogs chased them and he got stuck in that island in that detour with all that construction going on and he just couldn’t get out. And he isolated himself in there.”
The BCCO finally got eyes on it, and Chretien got a video sent to him on July 28.
“I thought, ‘that’s a yearling, that’s a small cow’, at first,” he said. “It was sort of an optical illusion from what I was looking at. So I wasn’t worrying about it too much, but the calls kept coming in.”
He had an officer go and inspect and they confirmed that it was a bit larger, but with the scorching temperatures that were about to come in, Chretien didn’t feel comfortable with the situation — it didn’t make sense that a cow elk would hunker down in such a spot, because they’re herd animals, so it must be a calf.
“Deer, not a problem, they do that all the time,” Chretien said. “There’s deer in that little bush all the time. Actually I’ve been there multiple times, either saving a deer, or having to dispatch an injured deer out of that exact bush that this little guy was laying in.”
What was peculiar about it, Chretien added, is that when they went back for confirmation on the age and size of the animal, he noticed there was other little deer in the little green area where the elk was.
“There was two little fawns down there, just below this elk and I looked at the elk and I said that is a calf, but a big one,” he recalled. “And it can not survive without milk, it needs milk until at least the end of October.”
Chretien was certain that this animal was not yet weened off of milk, and in fact it would be at least another month or two until it would be, so there would be no way it would survive.
“Unless,” Chretien added, “it latched onto a doe female deer and was supplementing his diet with that, but I highly doubt it, but it was surrounded by little fawns.”
The elk had found a little patch of timber where deer congregate in numbers of half a dozen or so. Deer will often leave their fawns in hiding while they go off to find food.
“I was kind of thinking that it had made some friends or associated these other little critters as his little herd, and liked being there and felt comfortable in there while slowly dehydrating to death.”
It was kind of like a mini nursery in there and it’s funny because I think that’s what held him there, was the feeling of not being lonely anymore and having other cohorts around him to hang out.”
Chretien made the decision that the elk could not live in that little patch any longer. They first tried to see if it would move out naturally, by the COs pushing it. It started to go in the right direction initially, but stopped immediately at the new pavement and come back.
After doing that twice and seeing that the elk was definitely not leaving, the team made the decision to tranquilize the animal and get it out of there.
“Also, due to the age and the requirements for nutrition in terms of nursing milk, it had to go to a rehab,” Chretien said.
Chretien was originally going to try to relocate the animal, even if it was a younger cow, by tranquilizing it and translocating her to an area close to a herd so it could try to assimilate again.
“But at this age, I just didn’t want to take the chance of it not reaching another herd, and it either finding it’s original herd and mom, or trying to attach itself to a new herd, that might be more detrimental especially after eight days of sunny weather in a bush without having any true milk and probably very little water, because there’s no water sources down there.”
Chretien decided that the likelihood of injury through darting at 35 degree weather would be less than leaving the animal where it was, so they went through with it before it was too late.
The little elk was safely transported to Little Mittens Animal Rescue Association in Golden in and is making a recovery. Chretien said it has a little bit of a charlie horse on its right hind leg, possibly from where the dart went in, but it is eating and drinking and wandering around, albeit with a slight limp.
Balcom transported the elk to Invermere, where volunteers from Little Mittens met her to then transport it back to Golden. She supported the CO through this rescue from start to end.
“We rely heavily on volunteers when it comes to orphaned animals, especially little ones,” Chretien said. “They help us to track the animals down and give us an idea of where the animals are and where they’re seen and what time they’re seen.”
Typically these volunteer animal rescuers don’t get involved with larger animals, due to the risk. Their work helps alleviate some of the stress on COs, so that they can prioritize other jobs.
Although the little elk is currently doing well at Little Mittens, it still has some work ahead of it yet to survive.
“There is the possibility that the elk may perish,” Chretien said. “It’s not 100 per cent yet, we’re not in the clear yet. It’s tough on an animal, especially a young animal to go through something like this, especially the prolonged dehydration that it had and the lack of nourishment for about a seven to eight day period, it was getting close to starvation.
“One of the biggest things for these types of herd animals, like elk, they’re long-lived and they get lonely without their kind. That’s usually what kills an animal of that age is a little bit of pain and loneliness and they last a while and they just stop eating. So we’re not in the clear yet, but our fingers are crossed and I think we might be successful here, but I just want people to be aware that we’re not in the clear yet.”
Finally, if anybody has any other issues with wildlife, or want to report poachers or polluters, Chretien wants them to contact the Report All Poachers and Polluters line at 1-877-952-7277.
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