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Zoo staff caring for elk calf

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Juno Ogle Photo An elk calf rests Wednesday morning in the offices of the Spring River Zoo, 1306 E. College Blvd. The 6-week-old calf has been cared for by the zoo staff after the mother would not let it nurse.

A new resident of the Spring River Zoo has been keeping the staff on their toes.

An elk calf was born six weeks ago to a pair of elk the zoo received as rescues in 2018. The mother wouldn’t let the baby nurse, however, so the staff has been giving it ‘round-the-clock care. The zoo will reveal its gender Friday on the zoo’s Facebook page.

“Several times the baby tried to nurse and she just kept walking away,” Zoo Curator Andi Cole said Wednesday as the calf rested in the offices of the zoo.

“With elk, it’s very important within the first couple of hours for them to nurse because of the colostrum, which is all the antibodies they need to have an immunity to things they can get sick from. So we had to make that call,” she said.

The staff consulted with a veterinarian before removing the calf from its mother.

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The calf is the first for the pair of elk, which the zoo received from a game ranch that lost its license for elk, Cole said. The lodge had the option of putting them down or donating them to the zoo.

“They were emaciated when we got them, so it took a lot to get the weight back on them. Now they’re healthy. They’ve been vaccinated and wormed. This is their healthy baby that she just didn’t know how to take care of,” Cole said.

The calf will eventually be returned to its mother when it’s a bit older and its leg heals. At first, the zoo kept the calf in an outside enclosure, but whenever it saw the staff, it would try to climb over the fence to join them and injured a leg, Cole said.

The elk have been kept in a pen away from the main part of the zoo but visible to passengers on the miniature train. They will eventually be moved to a pen where the other hoofed animals of the Great Plains and mountains are located. Once construction is finished on the fencing for the new mountain lion enclosure, those crews will build a tall fence for the elk enclosure.

The calf is about 33 inches tall and weighs 64 pounds, more than double its birth weight. A grown elk can weigh 700 to 800 pounds.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.