While out shooting the elk recently, I noticed something glistening around one of the bull elk's antlers. I focused in on him with my long lens, and was disturbed to see a very large amount of barbed wire wrapped around his antlers. I watched him as he rubbed his antlers against a fence post, in what looked like an effort to free himself from the tangle. Several times the barbs on the wire would catch on the fence wire and he'd pull free from the snag. It seemed it would have been all too easy for the bull to have wrapped his wires around the fence wire or pole and could have forced a tangle of which he could not pull himself free. No doubt if this wasn't seen by anyone, he could easily die from lack of water and food.
This is a growing problem that needs to be addressed in the park. In the short time I've lived in Inverness, I've seen multiple occasions where abandoned barbed wire, boat rope or bailing twine has been wrapped in the antlers of an elk. And I've learned it has happened several times in the past.
At a time when politics are at their highest concerning the elk in the park, we need no additional fuel for the fire. But when an animal dies a slow and painful death due to a preventable circumstance, there need be no sides, no politics, and no finger pointing. There needs to be compassion for a living creature and a solution to a preventable problem.
This in fact has happened in the past. Photographer Jim Coda generously shared this image with me to use in my blog post. The image is of an elk that had a similar problem to the noted bull above. It had gotten barbed wire wrapped around its head and antlers. In an attempt to free itself, it tightened the wire enough that it prevent him from opening his mouth to feed. You can see in the image, the wire actually dug its way well into the jaw bone, no doubt from the elk's best efforts to open its mouth. What a horrible and sad death caused by a problem so easily preventable.
Jim has blogged extensively on the fence issue in the park, which you can read more about on his blog here.
Here is another example of an elk picking up our trash in his antlers. I watched this elk for months with this buoy wrapped around its antlers. In this shot, I panicked at the though of this rope getting wrapped around the bull elk it was sparring with. Luckily if it did on this occasion, I could have called it in. But if this happened away from any roads, the likely outcome of this sparring session would have been two dead elk.
So how do we solve the issue? To me it is simple. Stop littering. I have seen PILES of abandoned barbed wire in the park. I often see bailing twine in fields and on the road. I feel confident in saying there is a standard, rule or law in place that states how we handle trash in the park. If it is the responsibility of the park to ensure there are no scraps of barbed wire on the ground, it seems fair to ask that the fence lines be inspected and the abandoned wire picked up. If it is the responsibility of the ranchers, then I would expect the rules to be followed and citations issued if there are violations to these rules. Either way, the animals we share this land with deserve better than this.