News & Media

Give Wildlife A “Brake”

by Kris Hazelton (Estes Park News)
September 12, 2012

It’s fall and the elk rut is underway, which is a good time for a reminder to us all to slow down and really watch for wildlife on our roads, especially this time of year. During the rut, the animals are very distracted and not at all wary when crossing the roads. Their distractedness makes it more important than ever for drivers to stay alert to wildlife activity near roads—and to slow down. Already this week, at least two elk have been hit by cars, one resulting in death while at the same time, bonding a group of neighbors together in the quest to save his life.

Photo credit: Estes Park News

This is a sad story of a beautiful 6 x 6 bull who was hit on Highway 34 earlier this week. After he was hit, he ran into the Elk Meadows subdivision where he laid down in someone’s yard to try to rest and recover from his injuries. Residents found the bull lying in between some trees the and they felt very sorry for the bull and watched in agony as he tried to get up but could not. They rallied together and tried to help the bull by calling Jayne Zmijewski, local wildlife volunteer who tried to assess his injuries and help the residents with suggestions and advice. They put out buckets of water for the bull who had no source of water nearby, hoping to help give him strength to heal. On the second morning he was there, their hopes were bouyed as they saw him standing, be it ever so briefly, to graze. However, that hope was short lived as that night, a rival bull elk moved into the area and saw the injured bull as a competitor and he gored him while he was down. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials were then called in to check him out and until they could get there with a CPW veterinarian to assess the situation, neighbors bonded together to camp out for the night, taking shifts to watch over the bull to prevent another rival attack. The residents did an all-nighter and thank goodness, it was an uneventful night, no wandering bull elk to create more problems. But they stated, “Boy, was it cold! At one point the temps dropped to 37 degrees!” These dedicated residents with big hearts held onto the hope that the bull would be able to make it.

On Sunday however, CPW wildlife Manager Rick Spowart and a CPW veterinarian arrived on scene and after trying to get the bull up and moving, decided the bull could not be saved and needed to be put down. He could not defend himself or even fend for himself and if nothing were done, it would be a very painful death. This was a very sad ending to this beautiful bull that was struck by a car.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid a situation where you might strike an animal on our roadways, causing injury or death to the animal and possibly to you or the occupants of your vehicle as well.

• Be particularly alert when driving and watch for wildlife in and near the road at dawn, dusk, and in the first few hours after darkness.

• Drive with increased awareness when traveling in signed wildlife areas. Crossing signs are generally placed in known wildlife movement areas and wildlife-vehicle collision hot spots.

• Pay attention to both sides of the road by scanning from side to side. If you have passengers, ask them to help you keep an eye out for animals.

• Practice active driving. Distracted driving, such as driving while talking on your cell phone, text messaging or chatting with passengers is even more dangerous in wildlife areas.

• As always, make sure you and your passengers wear seatbelts.

• Keeping to a safe speed provides drivers a better chance of being able to safely avoid a collision with a wild animal.

• Watch for young animals, as they know nothing of road dangers and often follow slowly behind mom.

• Stay in control. If wildlife is crossing or standing on the road, brake firmly. Do not assume an animal will move out of the way. Also, never swerve suddenly as this could cause your vehicle to veer out of control or head into oncoming traffic.

• If you see an animal crossing the road, slow down. Where there is one animal, there are probably others-young animals following their mother or male animals pursuing a female.

• Use your high beams whenever possible.

What to do if you injure an animal.

• Do not put your own safety at risk. Use your hazard lights or emergency road flares to warn oncoming traffic of the injured animal.

• Call someone with the proper training and equipment. When you need assistance, call the non-emergency number of the Estes Park Police Department at 586-4000 (program the phone number into your cell phone, if you have one) and describe the animal’s location. Emphasize that the injured animal is a traffic hazard to help ensure that someone will come quickly. If possible, stay in the area until help arrives.