Colorado Parks and Wildlife Shares Photos of Rare Piebald Elk Spotted During Survey

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) does important survey work in the wintertime to gain an understanding of current species populations throughout the state. On a recent excursion, they spotted something out of the ordinary.

In a Twitter post, the CPW Southwest Region shared that wildlife biologist Evan Phillips spotted a rare piebald cow elk on a big game classification helicopter flight.

Piebald animals have white spots or blotches paired with darker fur. According to the post, the trait occurs in roughly one out of every 100,000 elk. In the photos shared with the post, you can see the white splotches on a cow elk traversing a wintry landscape with other cows, all of which have the more typical brown coloration. The agency noted that helicopters, such as the one involved in this flight, will often be seen flying at lower elevations while conducting these surveys.

While the flight allowed those aboard to see such a rare sight, it’s also providing important information to biologists.

CPW Northwest Region Senior Wildlife Biologist Brad Banulis explains, “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. This is a critical data point to help us manage big game populations in the state, and we collect it in a manner that minimizes the stress on animals. We collect this data to manage robust and healthy wildlife populations, so we are always looking out for animal welfare and would not be doing capture or classification flights if we thought it was detrimental to the animals.”

According to CPW, there are more than 280,000 elk in the state, which makes it the largest population the world.

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
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