A wildlife biologist conducting research in the western Colorado mountains stumbled upon a 1-in-100,000 wildlife sighting.
What was the extremely rare creature Montrose-area wildlife biologist Evan Phillips spotted? A piebald cow elk, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The piebald trait is a unique pattern of pigmented and unpigmented white patches in an animal’s hair and skin, feathers or scales, AZ Animals says. In elk, it occurs in about 1 out of every 100,000 animals, officials said in the Dec. 6 post.
Photos show the unusually colored elk with typically colored ones in the back of the herd. The piebald elk appears mostly white with tawny patches across its body.
During a big game classification flight this week, Montrose area wildlife biologist Evan Phillips got a glimpse of a rare piebald cow elk! The piebald trait in elk occurs in about 1 out of every 100,000 animals. pic.twitter.com/5pFtvyd9RD
— CPW SW Region (@CPW_SW) December 6, 2023
Phillips was conducting crucial research on elk numbers in the southwestern part of the state when he spotted the unusual cow elk, officials said.
The wildlife agency will fit 75 elk calves with GPS collars in December and then collar 120 pregnant cow elk in March in order to better understand “calf survival and cause-specific mortality” across different areas of the state, officials said.
So you might see low-flying helicopters out surveying wildlife herds through February, officials said.
In the southwest region biologists will also radio collar 20 doe mule deer in La Plata County and parts of San Juan County starting Dec. 20.
“The classification flights will be critical to help us understand how last winter’s weather conditions may have affected birth rates and survival of elk calves and fawns last summer,” said Brad Banulis, northwest region senior wildlife biologist.
It’s a “critical data point” that helps the agency manage big game populations, he said. It also helps experts get an idea of how the elk population is doing after last winter’s heavy snow and cold killed off many of the state’s elk, the Denver Gazette reported.
Colorado has the largest elk population in the entire world, with about 280,000 elk in total, KDVR reported. Based on that number, this piebald elk could be one of up to three in the state.