ESTES PARK, Colo (KDVR) — Wildlife officials are urging residents and tourists of a northern Colorado town to be cautious of elk in the high country following a number of close calls captured on camera.
October traditionally marks the peak of the elk rut, when males look to assemble a harem of females while warding off other bulls looking to take their place atop the proverbial depth chart, and the majestic animals are a common site in Estes Park.
“[Bulls] can be extremely aggressive, especially if they think somebody or something is threatening [their] group of females,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife Manager Chase Rylands said.
Do not approach wildlife, officials warn
Thursday, Rylands spent much of his afternoon at Bond Park, constantly reminding people to stay back from a resting bull elk and his harem of 30 or so cows.
Many approached the elk to take selfies, with one woman even asking Rylands if she could pet him.
“You’d think it would be common knowledge not to approach these animals,” he says, “but you still have people doing that.”
Locals like Kris Hazelton say it’s gotten worse in recent years, with more and more people flocking to the area to witness the fall rut.
“It feels like it’s escalated quite a bit,” she said, “and people seem to be ignoring the rules a lot more and getting closer and closer to the animals.”
“Every day this fall, we’ve seen it,” she said. “Every time we see a herd, people are way too close.”
How to tell if you’re too close to elk
Rylands said getting close is not only dangerous for humans but also for the elk, who are draining huge amounts of energy this time of year preparing for mating season.
“Any time they get a chance to bed down and rest up, they’re going to take it,” he said.
Rylands recommends using the “rule of thumb,” which involves placing your hand in front of you and giving a thumbs up. If the entire elk is covered by the thumb, you’re likely a safe distance away. If not, he recommends taking a few steps back.
“If you do anything to alter an elk’s behavior, you’re too close,” he said.