Nineteen elk die this week after falling through ice at Paonia Reservoir

Nineteen elk have died this week after falling through ice at Paonia Reservoir, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The wildlife manager in the Gunnison area, J Wenum, said the elk deaths are unfortunate, but they are not unusual in Colorado during the winter.

A DOW officer responded to a report of elk in the water Sunday and confirmed eight elk were dead in the reservoir. Paonia Reservoir is adjacent to Colorado Highway 133 in Gunnison County about 15 miles northeast of the town of Paonia.

The elk were about 80 yards from the nearest bank and had succumbed to the cold water.

The DOW responded to two more calls Tuesday and found 11 elk in the water, five of which were barely alive. The DOW euthanized those animals.

“There really isn’t anything we can do in that type of situation,” Wenum said. “Access is limited, the bank is very steep, and there was no way to approach or pull animals out of the water. The animals are likely hypothermic and panicked. Unfortunately, there are multiple factors working against the elk.”

During winter, elk move in large herds, and Paonia Reservoir is a source of drinking water in that area. Apparently, numerous animals moved toward the reservoir at the same time, the DOW said. Some ice had formed, but it was not thick enough to hold the weight of the animals.

DOW officials said citizens who see wildlife trapped on ice or struggling in the water should resist the urge to extricate the animals. Big-game animals are powerful and unpredictable, and people who attempt to cross ice to provide assistance are at significant risk of becoming victims themselves.

Depending on its age and sex, an elk can range in size from 300 to 900 pounds.

Anyone who witnesses this type of event should to call a DOW office or a local law enforcement agency.


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