Chopper crew thwarts lion attack on elk

2012-03-06T07:22:00Z 2012-05-16T11:56:33Z Chopper crew thwarts lion attack on elk Kevin Woster Journal staff Rapid City Journal
March 06, 2012 7:22 am  • 

A helicopter crew firing sedation darts last week at elk in Custer State Park saw a repeat of a lion attack that killed a sedated elk during similar operations last year.

This year, the elk cow elk survived, however, thanks to some timely interference from the helicopter.

“I tell you what, it was unbelievable to have this happen two years in a row,” said Chad Lehman, senior wildlife biologist for the state Game, Fish & Parks Department in the park. “We were just really happy that the guys in the helicopter were able to thwart the lion attack this year.”

The helicopter crew from Quicksilver Air, a company with bases in Alaska and Colorado, is helping state researchers with a study of elk reproduction and calf survival in the park. The Quicksilver crew fired sedation darts from the helicopter to subdue the elk and then picked up Lehman and other wildlife professionals for a ride to the elk.

“We were waiting for the shuttle when we heard the pilot say over the radio, ‘You guys aren’t going to believe this, but we just had a mountain lion attack one of your drugged elk,’” Lehman said. “We told them we could believe it, because last year we had a lion eat one of our drugged elk.”

The cow elk in the study must be sedated so vaginal implants as well as collars can be fitted to locate the animals after they give birth this spring. Their calves will be fitted with radio collars so they can be followed.

During the helicopter work last year, one of the cow elk hit with a dart was almost immediately attacked and killed by a mountain lion. Another elk was chased by a lion last year, the helicopter crew reported.

This year, a lion made a run at an elk Feb. 26. But this time, the helicopter pilot got involved, first buzzing low over the lion, which stopped and stared at the chattering machine but took off after the elk again.

So the pilot got more aggressive and dropped the chopper down to hover between the lion and the elk until the cat gave up and ran into the trees.

“Last year, that elk had been under the drug for a while. It was almost asleep,” Lehman said. “This year, the elk had just been darted, and the lion came out of thick timber to chase it. The guys in the helicopter did a great job of separating the lion from the elk.”

While researchers in adjoining Wind Cave National Park are working a management plan to reduce the size of the 700-elk herd there, CSP officials are trying to rebuild a herd that has fallen from more than 1,000 to about 150.

Additional hunting pressure in recent years substantially reduced adult elk numbers in the park, said Lowell Schmitz, a big-game biologist with GF&P in Rapid City. But lions are clearly having an impact on elk numbers, too. The lion attacks reflected during the helicopter work show that. So did the first year of the study on elk-calf survival.

Thirty elk calves born last spring were located with signals from transmitters that had been implanted in pregnant cows during the previous helicopter work. The calves were fitted with radio collars.

Eleven of the collars got caught in fences or were otherwise disabled. Of the 19 remaining collared calves, 16 were confirmed as killed by lions. Two were listed as unknown predation. Only one of the 19 remains alive.

“That little guy still has several months to go to make it to a year old,” Schmitz said.

Lehman said researchers presume the other 11 calves suffered the same percentage loss to lions as did the 19 calves that were followed in the study. But that statistical assumption can’t be confirmed or disproven.

The impact of lions on elk calf survival is clear, however, Lehman said.

Researchers will watch the calf study results this year to see if the recent lion season, which killed four lions in the park and several more outside nearby, will reduce predation on elk calves.

Meanwhile, one elk cow that might have been killed is still alive. Lehman is happy about that.

“I don’t want to put elk in harm’s way by doing this research,” he said.

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(18) Comments

  1. Glock10mm
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    Glock10mm - March 11, 2012 8:40 pm
    "Why do the lions have much more right to be in the hills than a person does?"



    Because they were here first and because it's their natural habitat. It's their home. We are just visitors. Shouldn't we be gracious visitors and not out to kill every cat we see? Honestly, the people who walk around the hills in a constant state of fear of cats really live on another planet from me.

  2. skippy
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    skippy - March 09, 2012 3:02 pm
    And I thought Kantighe said lions don't bother elk and deer.
  3. Jonnnn
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    Jonnnn - March 08, 2012 10:48 pm
    Reads like the sound of a chopper engine or blades is a dinner bell for the lions, in much the same way that a chain saw is a dinner bell for the deer.

    Personal communication from a lion tracker revealed they have about 60 active collars on lions at the end of this recent hunting season.

    GFP's lion kill "map" from the 2011 season showed few kills in the high country core of the Black Hills - west of US 385. This strongly indicated there are plenty of lions in the Hills. The 2012 "kill" map shows a more spread out kill result. Both maps lead one to believe the Hills hold more lions than the GFP thought. They should consider whether increasing the tags to 100 and using dogs west of US 385 and in so doing, suspend that stupid criminal trespass law.
  4. Paleo1
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    Paleo1 - March 06, 2012 4:42 pm
    RCFD Dad said: ""The problem with the lion huggers..."Ummm ... I've never once hugged a lion (except for that one Tequila night, but we won't talk about that). Honestly, though, the lions have much more right to be in the hills than you do...in any number which their species will sustain. And yes, I camp in the hills plenty. But never unarmed."

    Why do the lions have much more right to be in the hills than a person does? Are people without rights now? I respect the lions as much as anyone. I also respect people. That is the difference.

  5. Steve B
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    Steve B - March 06, 2012 12:06 pm
    The total number of elk licenses issued for CSP has been reduced each year since 2005, from 223 in 2005 to the current GF&P proposal for 7 in 2012 (see on GF&P's website). Lions part of the problem? You decide. The total number of elk licenses issued for the rest of the Black Hills has also been reduced each year since 2005, from 2,937 in 2005 to the current GF&P proposal for 762 in 2012. This would certainly indicate a steadily declining elk population in the Hills as well. Lions part of the problem? You decide. Included in the 762 licenses for the Hills units are 285 Antlerless Elk tags. This bother anyone? If so, there is a public hearing on these proposals scheduled for March 29, 6-9pm at the new Outdoor Campus-West in Rapid City. May want to be there.
  6. open-i
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    open-i - March 06, 2012 11:35 am
    Sturgis Dude said: "You may have missed the story where the GF&P said that one of the big lions killed had tag M252 which stood for Male and 252nd lion tag? Where do you get the figure of 60? The reason they won't release how many are tagged is because it is a state secret how many there really are. 250 some odd tagged and there have to be quite a few without tags, hmmm you figure the math."

    Wont' be long till we start seeing them in our towns and on our farms (oh wait we already are seeing this). What happens when one of these "beautiful" creatures takes a kid? Is only a matter of time after they run out of food in the hills that they look for other types of food.
  7. RCFD Dad
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    RCFD Dad - March 06, 2012 11:23 am
    "The problem with the lion huggers..."



    Ummm ... I've never once hugged a lion (except for that one Tequila night, but we won't talk about that). Honestly, though, the lions have much more right to be in the hills than you do...in any number which their species will sustain. And yes, I camp in the hills plenty. But never unarmed.

  8. Steve B
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    Steve B - March 06, 2012 10:27 am
    The SD Mountain Lion Management Plan 2010-2015 indicates that based on SDSU research data from 2009-2010, it is estimated that at any given time of the year the Park has an average of 18 independent lions within the boundaries of the Park. With litters averaging 2 surviving kittens per litter, how many have been added to the Park population since then? So, did the harvest of 4 lions from the Park really put any kind of dent in the population?
  9. Nelag T
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    Nelag T - March 06, 2012 10:10 am
    GFP does a great job in managing all the wildlife population. While I lean more towards a lower cat kill and letting nature take its course, I realize that it is much easier for a predator population to rebound rather than the prey.
  10. Sturgis Dude
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    Sturgis Dude - March 06, 2012 9:29 am
    Wolfy said: "I'm a pro-cat person and your argument makes no sense. A lion goes after a drugged elk and that means that we need to increase the limit on lions? What are you talking about?The GFP has about 60 lions with collars. Why don't they release the exact number together with how many of the harvested lions had collars? With those two pieces of information we would know a lot about the population in the hills. But of course, that information is for some reason confidential."

    You may have missed the story where the GF&P said that one of the big lions killed had tag M252 which stood for Male and 252nd lion tag? Where do you get the figure of 60? The reason they won't release how many are tagged is because it is a state secret how many there really are. 250 some odd tagged and there have to be quite a few without tags, hmmm you figure the math.
  11. maddog61
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    maddog61 - March 06, 2012 9:14 am
    qualitycaprine said: "I am all for the live and let live thing, but lions will face a much worse death by starvation than by a gun. The lions are hungry enough that they will attack an elk with a helicopter near by. This means that the normally reclusive lion is getting pretty desperate. "

    I partially disagree, there are still a smorgasbord of puppies and kitty's in town to snack on before they start to go hungry.
  12. qualitycaprine
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    qualitycaprine - March 06, 2012 8:26 am
    I am all for the live and let live thing, but lions will face a much worse death by starvation than by a gun. The lions are hungry enough that they will attack an elk with a helicopter near by. This means that the normally reclusive lion is getting pretty desperate.
  13. arturo1113
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    arturo1113 - March 06, 2012 8:25 am
    Five years from now, once all the studies are finished, we will know what we already know. Their are to many lions in the hills. The elk populations have plummeted. The Bighorn sheep populations even more so. The problem with the lion huggers is that they dont get off the couch and go into the hills on a yearly basis. If they had any first hand knowledge they could see with their own eyes how out of balance the lion population is in the Black Hills. Ask someone who owns land in the hills. If you ask someone from GF@P they will tell you that they have to "walk a fine line" and will only hint at their opinion. Keeping game populations in balance is part of their job. They should be allowed to do it.
  14. Wolfy
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    Wolfy - March 06, 2012 8:06 am
    wellnow said: "And where are the procat people now???? Probally hiding behind a rock because they don't want to acknowledge the number of cats in the hills, sounds to me like they need to increase the limit for next years lion season!!"
    I'm a pro-cat person and your argument makes no sense. A lion goes after a drugged elk and that means that we need to increase the limit on lions? What are you talking about?

    The GFP has about 60 lions with collars. Why don't they release the exact number together with how many of the harvested lions had collars? With those two pieces of information we would know a lot about the population in the hills. But of course, that information is for some reason confidential.

  15. 196thlightinfantry
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    196thlightinfantry - March 06, 2012 8:03 am
    This is just another reason to make drugs legal. When the Mountain Lions are attacking Elk for the drugs, that is too much. Just kidding, but you have to wonder about the intelligence of this animals. Do you think that they not only are used to the noise of the choppers, but also the fact that the noise brings about supper. You must admit that it is a very stong coinkydink.
  16. PRL
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    PRL - March 06, 2012 8:01 am
    I hope by next year they get it right. If you dart an elk leave a person with a gun with the sedated elk. This will ensure that the study does not add to more elk loss.I can't imagine sedating an animal and leaving it to go get the people for the study. That isn't too smart! You should always leave a guard. Good heavens, it isn't even recommended to leave an adult alone with out family after they have been sedated in a hospital! Do not leave a sedated animal unprotected in the wild! This proves lions are smart enough to follow the noise to a guaranteed kill. They are not dumb by any means!
  17. acdcfan
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    acdcfan - March 06, 2012 7:49 am
    Here's some more evidence that there are too many mountain lions in the black hills.
  18. wellnow
    Report Abuse
    wellnow - March 06, 2012 7:31 am
    And where are the procat people now???? Probally hiding behind a rock because they don't want to acknowledge the number of cats in the hills, sounds to me like they need to increase the limit for next years lion season!!
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