Firefighters have rescued a newborn elk calf found among the ashes of the scorched forest in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Elk calving season has just begun in New Mexico as the state continues to battle several wildfires, including the largest wildfire on record. The Calf Canyon Fire which started on April 19 has already burned over 300,000 acres and continues to spread as drought and windy conditions only adds fuel to the fire.
Out-of-state firefighters have joined in the battle – including Missoula Fire Department based in Montana. The crew was checking the Gascon area for residual heat when they spotted the calf on the ground and at first thought he was dead.
Montana firefighter, Nate Sink, who found the calf told the Associated Press, “I didn’t think it was alive.”
He recalls seeing him “lying quietly in a six-inch deep layer of white ash, surrounded by the blackened remains of fir trees.” His mother was nowhere in sight.
People are advised not to touch or disturb elk calves as the mothers are usually nearby and will return. The firefighters followed this rule and hoped the mother would return. After waiting for an hour and not finding any tracks in the area, they decided to rescue the young calf.
The 32-pound bull calf was named “Cinder” and thanks to assistance from local ranchers, Lisa and Carl Bartley, and veterinarian, Dr. Bill Brainard, was rehydrated “with a mix of condensed milk and water”, posted officials on the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak Fire Facebook page.
The little fella was brought to the Cottonwood Veterinary clinic in Espanola where he was paired with a surrogate-mother elk who is taking great care of him. Wildlife veterinarian Kathleen Ramsay said Cinder will be raised with as little human contact as possible and will remain at the refuge until he is old enough to be returned to the wild.
The heartwarming story was shared by Missoula Firefighters on Facebook including Sink’s feelings on the experience. “I learned today that it’s common for cow elk to abandon their calves when stressed, during a fire for instance. This morning while patrolling a burned area I came across a malnourished and lethargic calf elk,” wrote the hero. “The most incredible outcome for such an incredible day!”
Residents of New Mexico expressed their gratitude to the firefighters for coming to their state to help fight the fires as well as save innocent wildlife.
One person said, “Thank you for your willingness to come all this way to help us with this fire. And as an added bonus, you do this. We love you all. Please stay safe and thank you for caring.”
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