What Is Going on with Colorado (Animal) Moms?

What Is Going on with Colorado (Animal) Moms?

Grizzly moms get most of the attention for defending their young, but ungulates can be just as "momma bear" as any bear in the woods. Case in point: Colorado.

In what Centennial State officials are calling an “unprecedented” string of incidents in the last two weeks, female elk and deer have attacked four unsuspecting residents–including several children and a pregnant woman.

Ground zero for many of these conflicts has been a little town northwest of Denver called Estes Park. There, cow elk have attacked an eight-year-old girl, a four-year-old boy, and a woman walking her dog.

“Cow elk with young calves are known to be aggressive, however we’ve never seen a year like this,” said Jason Duetsch, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Area Wildlife Manager. “All three attacks have been unprovoked and unfortunate accidents. We have no clear evidence to suggest these attacks were from the same animal, which underscores how uncommon the elk behavior has been.”

Then, the same day as the most recent elk attack in Estes Park, a female deer in El Paso County stomped a pregnant woman’s dogs and then charged her in her own backyard when she tried to intervene.

“Deer, elk, and moose can become aggressive in the late spring and early summer when their young are first born and defenseless,” said Tim Kroening, CPW’s Area Wildlife Manager for the Pikes Peak region. “The majority of aggressive behavior from these animals in some way involves a dog, who they see as a predator and threat to their young.”

Elk Attack 1: May 30, 2024

The first Estes Park attack involved a cow elk and an eight-year-old girl riding her bike. The girl’s family reported that the elk charged her from 60 yards away and stomped her “multiple times.” Fortunately, the family was able to chase off the animal and take the girl to the hospital, and she was released later that day.

When a CPW officer arrived on the scene, he observed a calf nearby. The cow elk acted aggressively towards him even though he wasn’t innocently enjoying a childhood bike ride, so he hazed it with bean bag rounds. The elk’s aggressive behavior “dissipated,” according to a CPW press release, which is apparently an euphemism for “ran away terrified.”

Elk Attack 2: June 3, 2024

The second attack also went down in Estes Park, but this time the elk went after an even more helpless victim. CWP reports that a four-year-old boy was playing at a local playground called Stanley Park when a cow elk charged him and stomped him multiple times. Further investigation revealed that two calves had been hiding in some nearby rocks, but the family did not know about them, and there was no indication that the boy had been trying to make friends with his fellow younglings.

The boy was taken to the hospital, but as in the previous incident, he wasn’t seriously injured and was released later that day.

CPW officers hazed the elk in the area but the park has been closed indefinitely.

Elk Attack 3: June 7, 2024

At this point, Estes Park residents should be forgiven for wondering if the elk are out to get them.

A third attack occurred just four days after the second. This time, a woman was walking her dog on-leash in a busy section of the downtown area (there’s a pub, a Mexican restaurant, and a coffee shop, all within a quarter mile). The dog walker surprised a cow elk from about 20 yards away, and things went downhill from there. The woman tried to hide behind a tree for safety, but the elk, obviously familiar with this maneuver, knocked the woman to the ground, then stomped and kicked her several times.

The victim is seeking medical treatment for her injuries.

Deer Attack: June 7, 2024

Lest you think there’s something in the water in Estes Park, another ungulate went after a human in Colorado last week, this one in an unincorporated area northwest of Colorado Springs.

A pregnant woman heard her dogs screaming in her yard and looked out the window to see them being stomped by a doe deer. She rushed outside to try to scare it away, but it wasn’t phased. It turned, reared up on its hind legs, and charged in her direction.

The woman’s father was also on the scene, and he began firing the rubber buckshot the CPW had given him to scare away black bears. But, again, the deer was unphased. It continued chasing the woman around the yard until the father retrieved some real ammunition and killed it.

After the incident, a fawn believed to belong to the deer was located nearby and taken to a wildlife rehabilitation facility where it will be raised and released back into the wild.

Officials say the deer was acting aggressively due to the woman’s dogs, but the dogs were in a fenced-in backyard. One might just as easily say the dogs were acting aggressively due to the deer that had just hopped into their territory.

Don’t Mess with Mama

Everyone knows male ungulates can be aggressive during the rut in the fall, but the same is true of females during the spring. CPW notes that deer, elk, and moose can be aggressive towards anything they perceive as a threat to their calves or fawns. As all of these attacks prove, you don’t have to be actively harassing a young animal for its mother to think you’re out to get it.

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