Elk watchers in the Benezette area are likely to be familiar with a large bull with a yellow radio telemetry collar bearing the number 36 that was a common sight around the community.
The elk, which was estimated to be about 18 years old by Doty McDowell, Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer for the Northcentral Region, had to be put down in January after breaking his leg on an icy roadway.
McDowell explained that a husband and wife had found the elk lying on a forested road to the north of Benezette and it appeared he was unable to get up.
"The road was very icy and they thought he had fallen due to the ice," McDowell said. "They went to the Benezette Hotel to get help. Brian Kunes, the owner, called my wife, Patty, at the Elk Country Store. She then called me. I gathered up my immobilization equipment in case he needed immobilized to get him off the ice."
McDowell and WCO Wayne Hunt went to the scene and found the bull in what McDowell described as 'very poor shape.'
"It appeared that he had at least one broken leg and he was bleeding from his mouth. We threw some ropes over his antlers and pulled him off the icy road, hoping that when he got onto soft ground he would be able to get up, but that was not the case. He was very weak and I made the decision at that point to euthanize him," McDowell said.
McDowell noted that euthanizing wildlife is one of the most difficult parts of his job.
"No matter how many times you do it, it never gets easy," McDowell said. "I realize that this was the most viewed elk in Pennsylvania for the past 10 years and just about everyone who has visited the area in that time period has seen #36, but I have no regrets for the decision I made that night. It needed to be done."
The animal's body was sent to the Penn State diagnostic lab for a complete necropsy, which revealed that the femur in his front left leg was shattered.
"The ligaments in his nose area were severely displaced, which explains the bleeding of the mouth, and probably occurred by hitting his face on the ice when he fell," McDowell said. "It was also determined in the necropsy that he had severe arthritis in all four legs."
Teeth from the animal were sent to a lab in the midwest, where a cross-section will be done to determine the bull's age; however, McDowell noted that an accurate age will not be available for several months.