Stolen elk’s remains return to final resting place in Rocky Mountain National Park

Meg Soyars
Kahuna in his glory. After the bull elk died, poachers stole his skull and antlers from Rocky Mountain National Park. They have since been found.
Dawn Wilson/Courtesy Photo

“Like the sun, he bathed us in his warm glow. Now that the sun has set and the cool of the evening has come, some of the warmth we absorbed is flowing back towards him.” So began an online eulogy for Kahuna, the best-known bull elk in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Good Bull Outdoors, a photography group that chronicled much of Kahuna’s life, posted the eulogy. A couple days after the eulogy post, an individual or individuals stole Kahuna’s skull and antler from his resting place.

Park Rangers at the park began investigating the illegal removal, believed to have occurred between March 20 and 22. Kahuna passed sometime around March 17. Since the elk’s body was in a protected national park, it was intended to fulfill the circle of life by staying there undisturbed by humans.

“This elk’s remains should be allowed to return to the earth in Rocky Mountain National Park, where he brought much joy to thousands of park visitors over many years,” stated a news release by park after the poaching incident. “… Rocky Mountain National Park’s wildlife are a resource for all to enjoy and protect.”

On April 9, park rangers were notified the skull and antler had been located. Poachers had cut and moved only one set of antlers, since the elk had shed the other antler sometime before his death. Rangers are still searching for the other antler Kahuna shed.

When reached for comment, Kyle Patterson, RMNP’s management specialist, could not disclose exactly where the cut skull and antlers were found, but it was within the park.

Kahuna, well-loved by the community, was one of the most widely photographed wild animals in the country. He traveled with a harem of females during his prime, and at around 1,000 pounds. was one of the most impressive bulls in the park. His majestic set of antlers unofficially scored over 426 points, according to Good Bull Outdoors. (A score of 375 is required to enter the all-time records book.)

Kahuna also went by the nicknames Bruno, Incredibull and Big Thirds. When he was alive, both visitors and wildlife photographers traveled to the park to catch sight of the magnificent animal in his natural habitat.

Good Bull Outdoors and ACS Nature Photography, two photography groups that both enjoyed chronicling Kahuna, took one of the last-known photos of the elk alive on March 7. At this point, the elk was visibly injured and underweight, having been hurt by another bull during the past rut season. Kahuna was also over 10 years old, at the twilight of his life.

The photographers eventually lost sight of the elderly elk due to a snowstorm. They traveled many miles in search of him. When they found him again on March 18, he was dead.

Although the exact cause of Kahuna’s demise is unknown, it is believed he died of natural causes and a mountain lion preyed on his carcass, as lion tracks were found around him.

ACS Nature Photography posted a photo of the dead Kahuna online.

“The king has fallen!” they wrote in the post. “He brought great joy to so many over the years with his show of dominance during the rut…this bull has given so many the shot of a lifetime and will always be remembered as one of the greatest Bull Elk to wander these parts.”

Many park visitors and other wildlife photographers commemorated Kahuna on social media, mourning his passing and sharing photos they had taken of the majestic animal when he was alive. Images of Kahuna’s mountain lion-mauled carcass were also circulated on social media, but the photographers who found his body did not divulge its location.

Now that park rangers have located the stolen skull and antlers, Kahuna can go back to resting in peace at the beautiful park he called home. Fans of Kahuna can look forward to seeing his progeny continue to live and thrive in the park, carrying on the legacy of the leader bull and one day taking their own place as “king” of Rocky Mountain National Park.



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