GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - A pair of bull elk died after being entangled in a mess of barbed wire fencing up Four Mile near Oak Meadows early Monday.
"It was as bad as I've ever seen," said Colorado Division of Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will. "It's common to see a bull or a buck [deer] with fence wires in its antlers, or two bulls unable to separate when their antlers lock up.
"But I've never seen two bulls get locked up with wire like that," he said.
Will said his agency was alerted by an area resident early Monday to the two elk, which had ripped out a fence post along with three strands of wire and were struggling to free themselves.
"The way they were wrapped up, it looked like they started sparring through a fence and just got caught up in the barbed wire," he said.
The annual elk breeding season, called the rut, is under way. It's during this time that the male elk become vocal and bellow out a loud bugling sound in an effort to attract a receptive female. Competing bulls also commonly get into sparring battles.
"You can see where they tore up the dirt trying to get free until they got down in the field where we found them," Will said. "They likely died of pure exhaustion."
At least one of the elk was reportedly still alive just before the officers arrived. But by the time they got there, the animals had both expired, he said.
"They beat each other up pretty good in the process," he said. "It was just a freak accident the way it happened."
Will said the DOW recommends that fences be no more than 42 inches tall to allow for large wildlife to pass over them, but that wasn't an issue in this case.
"There really wasn't much that could have been done to prevent this," he said. "Fences are a hazard to wildlife in general, but this kind of thing doesn't happen often."