Twenty-one elk drowned over the weekend in Echo Canyon Reservoir, about five miles south of Pagosa Springs, when ice broke under their weight.
The incident likely occurred Sunday evening, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said Wednesday. The elk were about 50 feet from shore.
Parks and Wildlife officers worked into the evening Monday to remove the carcasses from the water before it froze and made them irretrievable, Lewandowski said. The bloated carcasses were taken to a landfill Tuesday.
Residents of the area alerted authorities to the incident Monday morning.
“It’s kind of surprising none of them got out,” Lewandowski said. “That’s what happens when you get several thousand pounds on the ice.”
A photo of the dead elk on the shoreline, taken by Misha Garcia, got over 100,000 views on the pagosasprings.com website in less than 24 hours, said Jacque Aragon, who owns a marketing company in Pagosa Springs. The site had so much traffic Wednesday that it was working only intermittently, she said.
Parks and Wildlife said such drownings aren’t a common occurrence, but it’s not completely unheard of.
In 2008, 19 elk drowned when they fell through ice in Paonia Reservoir in Delta County, according to the news release.
In 2011, wildlife officers and local law-enforcement officials removed three cow elk that had fallen through ice at a private pond near Pagosa Springs. One elk died in that incident.
People shouldn’t try to rescue big game on ice or in water, the agency advised. Elk are large animals, weighing 300 to 1,000 pounds.