Living remotely and at high altitude (9,800’) we have seen some pretty strange things in our 23 years living full time in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of southern Colorado. We had a herd of deer that would come to visit for several months each year and they would follow me around while I would work outside. Then there was a hen turkey that did the same. Wherever I go she would be just a few feet away. Or the sage hen that would walk along with me. Then one time there was a black bear that came down the mountain while we were cutting firewood and sat down 20 yards away and watched us cut firewood for the longest time, and when we finished it got back up and went on its way.
Animal behavior often is puzzling. Animal behavior can be puzzling at times and not being an animal behaviorist, I am never really sure what their true intentions are or if they are just curious or possibly they sense we mean no harm and just want to share our company. There once was a mother black bear that stayed around our cabin for several weeks with her two tiny cubs and used us to train them. When the cubs would get close she would signal them and they would run and scamper up a tree. We would be within 15-20’ of her and her cubs and apparently she considered us good subjects to use to train the cubs.
Do animals sense fear? We can only assume the obvious and that is they are not alarmed by our presence and have a certain degree of trust when we are around. That might be because we are not fearful of them and respect them and their space. I believe animals can sense fear or danger and usually respond to it defensively or aggressively by biting or fleeing. One time we encountered a mountain lion that was about 20’ from us. It coiled up on the ground, hissed, snarled with ears and lips laid back and showing us some very nice yellow teeth. We stood in place and when the lion sensed we meant no harm it finally got up and bounded away in the opposite direction. I even talk to the birds and often they will let me know when they are out of food and will sit within a few feet of me as I refill their feeder.
Animal communication. I talk to all our animals and birds, and how much, if anything, they understand I don’t know. In the deer's case, I have found they are much more intelligent than I would have thought. I would give them a request and sometimes they would actually do it. One example was when I asked one buck deer that we were familiar with to let me use his antlers when they were ready to come off. He shook his head right then and one fell off at my feet and then he walked over a few feet and shook the other one off. They are now mounted on the back of our front door and used as a hat rack. No one was more surprised than I was when he did that.
Elk herds hold a convention. Nothing really puzzled us as much as last month. We looked outside early in the morning and there was a small herd of elk with one mature bull with a nice set of antlers. Then another herd joined them and another and another until there were nine very large and mature bulls and more cows and young elk than we could count. It was during the rut season and usually the bulls don’t intermingle when there are so many eligible cows around.
If elk can gather and get along, why can’t people do the same? We watched the combined herd and many of the bulls were standing side by side as peaceful as could be for a full hour. The elk herd was all around our house. The photos attached were taken from inside the house so the deck railing is in the photos. To go outside would have spooked the elk away so we were left to taking photos from inside. Out of the nine bulls we counted only two actually had a half hearted pushing contest and it was only symbolic as they were really not interested in dominance. In the past we have seen them when they were serious about dominance and these two were not.
Nine herds gather for friendly meeting. The herds assembled and formed one very large herd where they intermingled with each other and then just as suddenly as they had combined divided back into smaller herds and all went off in different directions. It all appeared very friendly and organized and for whatever reason they all congregated at our house for a short while. I have talked to others who are more familiar with elk and their behavior and they advised this year was a very different year for elk. After the rut they often combine into one large herd but this was right during the peak of the rut.
Environmental causes to blame? It may have had something to do with the wildfire last year; we do not know. We are surrounded by burn scar and our 11 acres are like an oasis of green in a very scarred area. However within a mile of us which was not part of the burn area there is a large lake and forest which would seem far more attractive to elk. We do not know why the elk held a convention at our home but it was extremely interesting to observe. Whatever their intent or behavior we fully enjoyed observing them close up and enjoyed having such a large herd of elk make themselves right at home around our house.
Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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