An internationally famous Yellowstone National Park bull elk has died, probably after being struck by a vehicle.
Elk No. 10, the last to wear a yellow ear tag with the number 10 on it, was found dead near Wraith Falls in the park on Saturday morning, according to Jim Halfpenny, a Gardiner, Mont.-based naturalist who gives guided tours in the park.
“Law enforcement said he had broken legs, and wolves don’t do that,” Halfpenny said.
He found out about the death after a park ranger moved the elk’s body away from the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Fall because wolves were scavenging the carcass.
“The early wolf watchers got to see the wolves there,” Halfpenny said. The Canyon pack frequents the area.
Elk No. 10 had been ear-tagged after becoming a nuisance in Mammoth during the breeding season. He became internationally famous after the British Broadcasting Corp. made a film on elk that featured the Mammoth animals as well as those in Estes Park, Colo. Clips from the films “Street fighters” and “Showdown in elk town” can still be found on YouTube.
Halfpenny said No. 10 was probably between 15 and 18 years old. The elk’s lower jawbone will be collected once the carcass has been thoroughly scavenged to allow a more accurate dating of the animal by its teeth.
The large bull elk attracted attention in Gardiner in 2001 when he got his antlers tangled in a volleyball or badminton net at the Mammoth school, Halfpenny wrote in an email. The only way to remove the net was to tranquilize the elk and saw off its antlers.
“I remember in 2006 when Elk 10 arrived on the Mammoth scene on Sept. 10,” Halfpenny wrote. “He was now big and took the harem over from another bull. In the coming years, he and Elk 6 did battle on more than one occasion. In more recent years he did not come into Mammoth, but maintained a harem of his own between the YCC camp and Mammoth Terraces. Being slightly old, wiser, and lacking the body weight of his youth, it was now time to retreat to a more private place with a smaller harem. He let the younger bulls compete for the prime grazing habitat of Mammoth and the cows that are attracted there.”
Rival elk No. 6 died a humiliating death in 2009 after jumping a barbed-wire fence in Gardiner, tangling his feet, getting stuck on his back and suffocating. No. 6 was estimated to be 15 years old and weighed 725 pounds. He scored 356 5/8 on the Boone and Crockett scoring system, a trophy animal.
Cow elk regularly live into their teens, and occasionally into their 20s. But the physical toll of rut often mean bulls live much shorter lives. That makes No. 10’s tenure even more remarkable, Halfpenny said.
He noted that of 1,008 Yellowstone bull elk killed by hunters between 1996 and 2001, along with 103 killed by wolves, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks found only one that was 14 years old, one that was 13 and four that were 12.
Bull elk often hang out in the Wraith Falls area during the winter, but Halfpenny said there aren’t many left at the site since the 2011 hunting season. Many of the animals migrated out of the park then after heavy winter snow and were shot by hunters. By his own count, Halfpenny said 250 park bulls were shot that season north of the Yellowstone border.
Halfpenny said No. 10 may not have been as aggressive in the long run as No. 6, but he had “held court at Mammoth” for many years, chasing off other bull elk rivals during the mating season, as well as the occasional car, RV or tourist.
“I find it ironic that the bull who challenged, charged and damaged so many cars, finally passed due to a vehicle,” Halfpenny wrote. “Wish we could get drivers to drive slower and watch for wildlife.”