SANTA FE, N.M. — Firefighters have rescued an abandoned newborn elk calf found amid the ashes of the nation’s largest wildfire as calving season approaches its peak in New Mexico and fires rage across the West.
Missoula, Mont.-based firefighter Nate Sink said Tuesday that he happened upon the motionless elk calf on the ground of a fire-blackened New Mexico forest as he patrolled and extinguished lingering hot spots.
“The whole area is just surrounded in a thick layer of ash and burned trees. I didn’t think it was alive,” said Sink, who was deployed to the state to help contain a wildfire that by Wednesday had spread across 486 square miles and destroyed hundreds of structures.
It’s is one of five major uncontained fires burning in New Mexico amid extremely dry and windy conditions. More than 3,000 firefighters battling the biggest blaze have made significant progress halting its growth in recent days ahead of more dangerous fire conditions forecast to return into the weekend, crew commanders said Wednesday night.
Wildlife officials in general discourage interactions with elk calves that are briefly left alone in the first weeks of life as their mothers forage at a distance. Sink says he searched diligently for traces of the calf’s mother and found none.
The 32-pound singed bull calf, dubbed “Cinder,” was taken for care to a nearby ranch and is now regaining strength at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Espanola, north of Santa Fe.
Veterinarian Kathleen Ramsay at Cottonwood Rehab says she paired Cinder with a full-grown surrogate elk to be raised with as little human contact as possible.
“They do elk things, they don’t do people things,” said Ramsay, noting Cinder arrived at a tender days-old age with his umbilical cord still attached.
Ramsay said the calf hopefully can be released into the wild in December after elk-hunting season.