A female elk on Sunday attacked a Payson resident, knocked her to the ground and stomped her before the woman’s husband managed to drive the inexplicably enraged creature away.
Arizona Game and Fish officials hunted for the animal in Chaparral Highlands Sunday and Monday and at one point took a shot at her, but the elk escaped and remains at large.
Lori Limebeer was treated and released at the hospital after a CT scan revealed that the blow to her head caused no brain injury, although she lost her recollection of the attack.
But Jeff Limebeer said the attack in his yard off Tyler Parkway near the new, third fire station is etched into his memory. He was in bed at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday when the elk attacked his wife while she watered flowers in the front yard with their dog, a small Shih Tzu. She apparently had just taken a photo when the elk charged, reared up and knocked her to the ground.
“I heard this screaming,” recalled Limebeer, who rushed outside in his nightclothes to find the elk kicking his wife lying on the ground, next to the wailing dog “curled into a fetal position.”
Limebeer said “the elk was kicking her. But as soon as I opened the door and started screaming at her, she ran off. I went into some kind of a trance. I just grabbed the dog with my right hand and dragged Lori in with my left. She was right at the front door.”
He said his wife lost consciousness briefly, then recovered. However, about 20 minutes after the attack — she asked him what had happened. She has not regained her memory of the attack itself.
Limebeer said that he went back into the yard and found the elk still there, staring at him without evident fear.
“I was really pissed off,” he said. “I went out there with my CO2 gun and shot her in the rump so she would go away.”
Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Dave Daniels said elk sometimes become aggressive after people get them into the habit of expecting to be fed.
In fact, Daniels said that a bull elk chased a Star Valley man into his own home late last week when the man ran out of food. The man had been feeding beans to neighborhood elk, which prompted them to lose their fear of people.
“The elk chased him clear back into his house,” said Daniels. “Anytime you start feeding wildlife, it makes for a bad situation. We live in elk country. That’s just part of it. You just have to have the self-control to leave them alone. When you go out there and feed them or pet them or even take pictures, it hurts the elk in the end.”
Daniels said people report elk attacks a couple of times each year in Arizona, but the attacks rarely result in any serious injury.
On the other hand, about a dozen Arizonans die every year when their cars smash into elk or deer on the highway.
Daniels said Game and Fish wardens had spent the day looking for the rogue elk, but she had vanished back into the woods.
“We spent a long time looking for it yesterday, but honestly if we found it today, there’s no way to tell if it’s the right elk. There’s elk all over that country. But if one shows up in the neighborhood and its aggressive and hanging around and not scared of people, then we’ll go and make a decision.”
Elk attacks remain rare, although YouTube brims with videos of elk attacks. One 2009 news story from Maine recounts a case in which an elk gored a hunter to death as his wife filmed the incident. In an accompanying interview the woman says that in retrospect she wished she had run to the truck to get the rifle, but she didn’t want to break off filming the attack.
Fortunately, Limebeer had no such conflicts, when he rushed into the yard.
“This elk was 30 yards away when my wife was watching him — you can tell that by the tracks. I don’t think people realize how fast an elk can move. The moral of the story is to stay away from elk.”
He said the incident has shaken his confidence in his thickly forested neighborhood, where wandering elk remain a common sight.
“I have to admit, I kind of have fear now when I’m outside. When I take the dog outside at night, I wonder if there’s going to be an elk out there that’s going to charge me. We’ve had a condo up here for five years and we see pigs (javelina) and snakes and everything and I’ve never had the slightest fear before.”
Daniels said that people should not make wild animals “feel welcome” in their yards.
“When you start to feed the wildlife and get them kind of accustomed to relying on people for food, it’s just not good for the elk and not good for the town. They can become aggressive. I don’t really advocate throwing rocks or whatever, but we don’t want them to feel welcome. We want them to be wild animals — like they are.”
The state has an estimated 35,000 elk. Hunters wiped out the native elk species more than a century ago, but Game and Fish game managers reintroduced Rocky Mountain elk to Arizona starting in 1913.
The elk spread quickly, with nothing to fear from their exterminated predators — wolves and grizzly bears. As hunting declined, the number of elk boomed.
Normally at this time of year, most of the elk move to higher, cooler summer ranges. Bulls move alone or in small groups while cows normally move in small groups with their calves, born in the spring.
In the fall, the bulls move back down and round up harems of females, calling constantly and staging fierce battles for dominance with other males. The bulls often become very aggressive during the fall ruts. However, attacks by the cows remain quite rare.
It’s unclear whether this cow’s unusual behavior and its solitary habits have anything to do with the attack.
“We have a herd that’s always here,” said Limebeer. But the elk that attacked his wife “is a loner, which is the odd thing. We haven’t seen any other elk in here for a month, so she’s not with any herd.”
He said last year a cow and her two calves made a habit of raiding his bird feeders, which he and his wife found amusing.
“I never had any fear. But now that I have seen how fast an elk can come after you, it’s different.”