Why Are Cow Elks Attacking Children in Colorado?

There have been two separate cow elk attacks on children in the past week near Estes Park, Colorado, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. These are not cases of “tourons” being too close to these animals. Rather, the two children involved in this week’s attacks were minding their own business when the animals charged from a hidden place. What’s going on?

The First Cow Elk Attack: May 30

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the first Estes Park attack took place on May 30. An eight-year-old girl was riding her bike in a neighborhood when a cow elk (a female elk) charged at the young girl from about 60 yards (180 feet) away. The animal caught up with the girl and stomped on her multiple times. CPW says the girl was injured but released from the hospital later that day.

Wildlife officials later found the elk and her newborn calf in the area, and the cow elk became aggressive toward the officer. The officer hazed the elk with a “non-lethal bean bag round.”

“This is an unusual and unfortunate situation where a young girl was playing outside, far from the calf, and a cow elk became aggressive to protect her newborn,” Jason Duetsch, area wildlife manager for CPW said in a press release. “While it is a natural reaction for cow elk to be very defensive during calving season, it is not often they hurt someone, especially a child.”

The Second Cow Elk Attack: June 3

The second cow elk attack this week happened on June 3, also in Estes Park, Colorado. CPW reports the victim was a four-year-old boy. Similar to the first case, the young boy in the second incident was playing at a playground in the middle of the day, when a cow elk charged and stomped on him multiple times. Medical professionals treated his injuries and released him from the hospital that evening.

Unbeknownst to the families, two elk calves were hidden in a rocky area nearby where the children were playing. A CPW officer responded, found multiple cow elk in the area, and hazed the aggressive elk using non-lethal bean bag rounds to encourage it to leave the area.

What’s Behind These Attacks?

CPW says late spring and early summer is calving season for Colorado’s elk population. “During this time, cow elk can display aggression towards people and pets to protect their calves from perceived threats,” CPW says in its press release.

Newborn elk calves are immobile, so their mothers are particularly protective of them between birth and the point at which the calves can walk. “Conflicts are common with cow elk and cow moose when they have young nearby, and conflicts increase until their young can stand and move around on their own,” CPW explains.

Unfortunately, you might not even know you’re near an elk calf until it’s too late, and cow elk might charge from many yard away if they perceive your presence as a threat. CPW encourages people to steer clear of young wildlife, even if the babies appear to be alone. Always be aware of your surroundings and realize that babies may be close but out of sight.

CPW has placed signs warning of aggressive cow elk in the area in hopes it will encourage residents to be on high alert.

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