Last Wisconsin elk from original 1995 herd dies in Ashland County

Cow No. 13, the last remaining animal from the 1995 release of 25 Michigan elk, died recently at age 24 (almost 25) in a hayfield west of Butternut in Ashland County. DNR wildlife biologist Lane Stowell called No. 13 the most ornery cow elk he has ever seen. (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin DNR)

The last of the original 25 Michigan elk released in the Clam Lake area in 1995 died near Butternut in Ashland County sometime between April 8-11. It is believed cow No. 13 died of old age. She was 24 years old.

A DNR wildlife technician ran a mortality check the week before on the small herd that usually travels the border of private land and the Chequamegon National Forest west of Butternut. Cow No. 13 was alive during that check. A private landowner west of Butternut called DNR Price County game warden Dan Michels the morning of Friday, April 12 to say that he found the cow dead in his hayfield. At that point, the carcass had been mildly scavenged, according to DNR elk biologist Lane Stowell.

“We went out to investigate that evening,” said Stowell. “She appeared in very poor condition. There was no sign of predation. Scavangers had entered her abdomen, but otherwise it appeared that she may be one of those rare instances where a Wisconsin wild elk died of old age. She arrived with 24 other elk from Michigan in May of 1995 as a calf approaching her first birthday. The good people of the state of Michigan donated 25 elk to the good people of the state of Wisconsin in order to investigate the feasibility of restoring elk to Wisconsin.

“I have mentioned it often in describing Cow 13 that she was the orneriest cow elk I ever met, and I’ve met several hundred cow elk. She tried to kill me all four times I trapped her. She once jumped over my head and a swing gate to get to her calf in the transfer tub of the corral trap in 2009, but we still collared her,” Stowell said in a news release. “She and Bull No. 7 started the Butternut elk group soon after release in 1995. They left the release pen near Clam Lake and traveled about 12 miles southeast to the eastern edge of the Chequamegon National Forest near Stock Farm Bridge on the east fork of the Chippewa River. I used to track them in this area when I first started as the elk biologist in 2000. “

Cow No. 13’s calf was one of four calves Stowell and crew found while working his first calving season in 2001. That calf became Bull No. 91. Stowell trapped Cow No. 13 in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2015.

“She was always ornery, big and in excellent condition. When I trapped her in 2009, I watched her and others in the field behind Steve Rose’s farm (west of Butternut) while wolves howled in the surrounding woods. They didn’t faze her a bit. We never verified any losses of this elk herd to wolves. I think it was because Bull No. 7 and Cow No. 13 were aggressive,” Stowell said. “Bull No. 7 killed Bull No. 23 in a rut fight in 1998. Aggression apparently runs in this group of elk. Not only did Cow No. 13 know how to kick elk biologists, but this aggressiveness has apparently been passed down to their progeny. Bull No. 178, the dominant herd bull for the past several years, killed two bulls in rut fights – one in 2015 and one in 2016.”

In 2015, the DNR took five cows and four calves from that Butternut herd, releasing cows No. 13, No. 160 and No. 256 back into their Butternut home. They moved the others, with two bulls from Clam Lake, to the Flambeau River State Forest, where the DNR had established a new herd of elk using animals brought in from Kentucky.

“That group has grown over 133 percent since their arrival to the Flambeau River State Forest in 2015. They are now mixing with Kentucky elk, sharing their aggressiveness traits, savvy about wolves and bears, while the Kentucky elk share their diverse genetics. This bodes best for the future Wisconsin wild elk,” Stowell said.

“Not only is Cow No. 13 the oldest wild elk I’ve ever heard of, but she’s contributed immensely to the prosperity of our Clam Lake herd. She will be missed. From now on, 13 is my lucky number.”

Categories: Wisconsin – Dean Bortz

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