Palisades Reservoir in Alpine, Wyoming, almost became a watery grave to a small herd of elk shortly after Christmas.
On Friday, Dec. 29, people spotted an odd sight at about 7:30 a.m. The freezing temperature made the situation even worse.
Out on the reservoir, some elk had gotten themselves trapped. If no one intervened, they would be goners.
There were 13 elk in total — including some calves. They had broken through a thin spot even though the rest of the ice was inches thick.
Dusty Jones, a local, said he was on his way to work when he noticed some cars pulled over and looked over to see the floundering herd.
Calls were made and more people showed up, bringing tools to break the ice and create a pathway for the elk.
The water they were bobbing in was about 8-10 feet deep, but if the good Samaritans could just break the ice and get the elk to shallower water, they might be able to haul them out.
“Before you knew it, there were 30-40 people there,” Jones said.
“We began cutting a little path toward the shore so the animals could walk out but they were so cold they couldn’t move. That’s when we just started grabbing them and pulling them out.”
Locals, Game and Fish officials, and deputies all worked together to drag the frightened, cold animals to solid ground.
Game and Fish Biologist Gary Fralick reported that two calves were not doing well initially, but after a bit of time they were transported elsewhere and managed to stand up and walk away with the herd.
“Somebody had a backhoe that we were able to put two calves into the bucket and transport them to the Alpine Feed Ground,” Fralick said.
The several dozen people risked life and limb to free these wild animals. Elk can easily injure or kill a person, especially when they’re frightened, but thankfully all 13 elk were rescued and no one was seriously hurt.
So many things could have gone wrong. The ice could’ve broken under the elk and people, sending man and beast to an icy death.
While hauling the elk up, someone could’ve gotten kicked or stepped on or run over. The elk could have succumbed to the cold.
Three years ago, 30 elk had been lost in a similar manner. Perhaps it was the memory of that loss that spurred this motley crew to pull together and get the elk to safety.
But for now, those 13 are safe. Hopefully they’ll be more careful next time.
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