“Elk can be aggressive and attack without warning,” reads Parks Canada’s webpage on elk safety.
“During the fall mating season (Aug – Sept), male elk are particularly belligerent.”
A truck full of tourists came to understand the full meaning of this during a recent incident on Compound Road, which runs parallel to Highway 16.
This being the season of the rut, the vehicle inadvertently found itself exactly in harm’s way.
A bull elk charged it, causing several punctures to the truck’s siding, a few scrapes as well as one shattered window and a cracked windshield.
“It’s a pretty serious beast to tangle with,” said Dave Argument, resource conservation manager with Jasper National Park.
All four adult occupants of the vehicle were reportedly unharmed, except perhaps for a general state of alarm.
Argument was very nearly a witness to the animal-automobile altercation as his office is in the vicinity and has a good vantage point to that road and Highway 16 through some clearings.
“I heard the incident, rather than saw it,” he said.
He said that the “shriek” of the antlers scraping along the truck’s body was audible.
“They laid on their horn on the truck horn to try to extract themselves from the incident. When I looked up, the truck was peeling into the parking lot here with the damage done and the elk standing on the asphalt… maybe 30 metres away.”
The people were apparently attempting to get closer to the wildlife in order to get photos. Sections of Compound Road are very close to an elk stand in an adjacent grove.
During the rut, bull elk can take offense to any person or thing that comes in between them and their harems. The harem was right there, Argument confirmed, and a second bull elk was also in proximity to the scene.
“What you’ll often see when there’s another bull that is interested in the harem, the dominant bull that is trying to defend his harem may actually leave it for a short distance to go over and address the challenger. There can be a bit of separation between the bull and the harem,” he said.
“At this time of year, if you see two bulls together – especially if they look like they’re paying close attention to each other or actually sparring – there’s likely a harem in the area that they’re fighting over. You are ill advised to come between that bull who’s already worked up and now defending against the intruding bull that comes between him and his harem.”
While the vehicle sustained some surface damage, it could have been much worse. The elk could have punctured the tires or penetrated further into the engine. At least the truck was left in otherwise drivable condition.
Parks Canada issues guidelines about minimum safe distances for people. For elk, that’s 30 metres during the better part of the year.
“We also say, ‘Don’t get between a bull and its harem,’” Argument said. “If you find yourself trying to stay 30 metres away from the harem and the bull is on the other side of you, that’s not safe either.”
To further elucidate on how a bull elk’s emotions can run high during the rut, Argument said that he did see the animal run through a clearing and onto Highway 16, taking a charge at a passing truck. It seemed to cause some apparent minor damage to that vehicle as well.
A brief video from Instagram user “johnkramplphotography” was posted last week. It shows a bull elk charging and hitting an SUV that was attempting to pass it on Highway 16.
“The hormones are running and they’re raring to take on all challengers,” Argument said. “He was attempting to stand down semis on the highway at the same time. They don’t back down.”
The timing of the rut can be variable, but it seemed to start early this year. It is expected to last until the end of October.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 25, 2023