Elk Network24-Year-Old Wisconsin Cow “13” Dies

General | April 23, 2019

Cow 13 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.

There was a recent passing in northern Wisconsin. It happened quietly and in a remote location. The fallen was not a human but an elk, a cow elk. Cow 13 (see above photo), as referred to by biologists, was not only a key player in the restoration of elk to their historic Wisconsin range but remained so until its passing after more than 24 years!

Below are the words of Laine Stowell, senior wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Cow 13, 24 going on 25 years old, no longer lives. Last week we did a mortality check and verified that cow 13 was still alive. This morning (early April 2019) I got a call from the warden out of Park Falls that one of his neighbors found Cow 13 dead out in his field. We went out to investigate this evening. She appeared in very poor condition. There was no sign of predation. Scavengers 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, and 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.

She and bull 7 started the Butternut elk group soon after the release in 1995. They left the release pen near Clam Lake and travelled about 12 miles southeast to the eastern edge of the Chequamegon-Nicolet 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. Hers was one of four calves (bull 91) we found my first calving season in 2001. I trapped her and others of the Butternut group 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 while wolves howled in the surrounding woods. They didn’t faze her a bit. We never verified any losses of this elk group to wolves. I think it was because both bull 7 and cow 13 were aggressive. Bull 7 killed bull 23 in a rut fight in 1998. Aggression apparently runs in this group of elk. Not only did cow 13 know how to kick elk biologists, but this aggressiveness has apparently been passed down to their progeny. Bull 178, who has been the dominant herd bull for the past several years, killed two bulls in rut fights, one in 2015 and one in 2016.  

In 2015 we took five cows and four calves from this Butternut group, releasing cows 13, 160 and 256 back into their Butternut home. We moved the others, with two bulls from Clam Lake, to the Flambeau River State Forest. 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. 

Not only is cow 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!

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided both funding and volunteer manpower toward Wisconsin’s successful elk restoration efforts.

(Photo source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)