Elk rescued in Potter County

A stranded elk is blindfolded before taken to safety by Department of Conservation and Natural Resources employees, and Pennsylvania Game Commission staff.

AUSTIN, Pa. — State employees were forced to organize a rescue just before Christmas to help a small elk stranded at the George B. Stevenson Dam.

A small spike elk wandered across the icy spillway and was stranded on the afternoon of Dec. 22 near the dam at Sinnemahoning State Park.

“We received a report early Thursday afternoon. A spike had been seen laying in the bottom of the spillway,” said park manager Lisa Bainey. Park visitors alerted staff to the elk, which they believed was injured.

Bainey stated that a number of Department of Conservation and Natural Resources employees and Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) staff reported to the scene to assess the animal. They were relieved to find that the elk had skinned knees, but otherwise appeared to be fine, she said. Park staff were concerned, however, because the elk was laying on top of the ice.

Employees tried several methods to get the elk to move away from the area, including putting down anti-skid material and using “cracker shells” to create loud noises. The elk was able to stand, but refused to leave.

“He was definitely afraid of the ice and had had a bad experience,” said Bainey. “When the (Game Commission) used the cracker shells and he just turned around and looked at them, we knew he wasn’t going to move.”

Unfortunately, nightfall forced the rescuers to leave the elk overnight, hopeful that he would move away from the area after the people cleared the scene.

He was still there in the morning, and the rescue began anew. This time, PGC elk biologist Jeremy Banfield arrived at the scene. Banfield was able to tranquilize the animal, and then the assembled personnel lifted the blindfolded elk onto a stretcher, and he was driven over the spillway of the dam.

“He wasn’t very big, only about 300 pounds, so we were able to lift him,” said Bainey. “He is basically just a confused teenager.”

After the elk was brought to flat ground, Banfield and the forestry, parks and Game Commission personnel were able to determine that he had no internal or further injuries beyond his skinned knees. His vitals and some measurements were taken, and Banfield gave him an additional medication to wake him up.

Bainey stated that the elk stood, began grazing and then wandered off pretty quickly.

“It was a nice Christmas gift for this confused bull,” said Bainey. “It was definitely a feel-good day for all of us.”

Sinnemahoning State Park has become famous for its wildlife-watching opportunities, and especially for the chance to see wild elk roaming through the park and around the Wildlife Center.

Bainey stated that deer and elk often wander into the spillway. Most deer use a specially constructed ladder to escape, while elk typically have to be coaxed or chased from the area, or take a much longer time to wander out on their own.

Data collected through this elk and other collared members of the herd are used by the Game Commission to help manage the elk herd, monitor the population and maintain habitat.

(Contact Amanda Jones at amandajonesera@yahoo.com)