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Elvis in Evening Light

Elvis—King of the Gros Ventre

Some of it’s magic—some of it’s tragic.

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Elvis 2010

In the fall of 2010, this big bull moose I called “Elvis” established his dominance along the Gros Ventre in Grand Teton National Park.

Gaston with Cut

For many years prior to Elvis’ “hostile takeover”, this bull I called “Gaston” had been the dominant bull in the area. On this particular morning, I found a group of familiar bulls and cows along the Gros Ventre—but something was different. Another big bull was going from cow to cow, yet Gaston was standing off to the side letting it all happen. At the time, I was confused by what I was witnessing. Eventually, Gaston stepped into the light and everything made sense. Half a dozen of the tines on Gaston’s antlers had been broken off and he had a large gash in his shoulder. The battle apparently happened overnight or earlier that morning, but unfortunately, I missed it. For the rest of the fall, Gaston backed away from Elvis if he approached.

Elvis at the Dumpster

Elvis in 2008: In years prior to the 2010 changing of the guard, I saw Elvis on quite a few occasions. The bull on the right is no slouch, but this shot shows how much bigger and bulkier Elvis was even then. The other distinguishing features were his long, “all-business” tines.

Elvis at Water

Elvis at Water in 2010: With a rack like this, it was easy to identify Elvis from afar.

Wide AntlersMany moose have antlers that sweep out from their skulls like this one. Elvis’ antlers reached almost straight up. Between the long, intimidating tines and the reach, Elvis presented himself as a formidable opponent.  Compare the antlers of this large bull to Elvis below!

Elvis Resting

To the Victor: I took this image in the evening following the “changing of the guard”. I knew at the time that things would be different and I’d be taking more images of him going forward. Gaston hung around most of the fall, but wasn’t a factor in the rut.

While some people don’t like the idea of giving human names to wild animals (Anthropomorphism), I do it! It helps me keep track of them while out in the field and it definitely helps me find specific animals in my Lightroom catalog when I need them—as was the case for this post. Originally, I called him “Emporer”, but it just didn’t seem to fit. I was thinking about his regal crown like set of antlers. “King”…? No. But that led to “Elvis…(King of the Gros Ventre)”.  I told a few other friends what I had been calling him and the name stuck. I am sure other people had a different name for him. Over time, we had fun with the name. “The Elvis show is at 9:00 am” or if he crossed the river, “Elvis has left the building”.

Elvis and Cow

Most confrontations between two bulls require only a stare down. This little bull was more of an annoyance than a threat.

Web_ElvisInSnowStorm2008

There was plenty of potential for good shots of this bull all the way back to 2008. Over the next five years, he grew even bigger and more powerful.

Elvis in 2010

Elvis in 2010: You can see the growth in his antlers over two years. It was time! Elvis enjoyed a couple of years as the top breeder along the Gros Ventre. He roamed around three miles of it regularly during the fall.

Elvis in Willows

Elvis in Cottonwoods and Willows along the Gros Ventre River.

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The Beginning of the End

October 13, 2011

October 13, 2011: In the fall of 2011, Elvis and a few other cows in the Gros Ventre contracted Pink eye (conjunctivitis). The link will take you to the Mayo Clinic. His right eye became extremely swollen and eventually closed up, with drips of puss streaking from the eye. At the time, I thought it could have been from a fighting injury, but other cows began to show similar symptoms.

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

October 20, 2011: It was difficult to watch as things seemed to get worse on a regular basis. I deleted almost all shots of Elvis if I could see his swollen eye, and then began to only photograph him on his good side. I feared the worst for him during the winter.

Elvis, Washakie & Slim Jim: August 28, 2012

Clear Eyes 2012: A year later, Elvis appeared with clear eyes. I was relieved, along with other photographers familiar with the earlier infection. This is Elvis (right), Washakie (left) & Slim Jim (back): August 28, 2012

September 2013

In 2013, his eye turned milky white. I don’t know if he could see out it?

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

Elvis Eyes, Sept 18, 2013: Within 14 days, his velvet had been stripped, but his right eye was sealed again.

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013: Now, both eyes were infected, with fluids dripping from his left eye.

Elvis Crossing Oct 22

This is the last photo I took of Elvis at 7:30 am on September 22nd of 2013. A day later, Elvis was dead.

Elvis Necropsy

The necropsy was conducted in the afternoon on September 23rd. I heard a few reports of the death of a large bull, then managed to get a photo and some information from the WY Game and Fish. This is a post I made on Best of the Tetons Daily Update Page for October of 2012:

Oct4. News: Elvis has left the building: One of my favorite bull moose has died from an apparent fighting wound on the National Elk Refuge. This recent photo, supplied by Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist, Doug Brimeyer, shows a Wyoming Game Warden, conducting a necropsy. Doug Brimeyer reports, “We did confirm that this moose had two large puncture wounds in the chest and abdomen that likely caused it to bleed internally.  We skinned the animal and  looked at the injuries.  We ran a metal detector over the area and the injuries were consistent with trauma caused by blunt force and punctures from antlers.”

Elvis, an un-numbered bull, has been a fixture along the Gros Ventre river bottom for four or five years, or longer, and been a popular subject of many photographers and tourists at the pullouts. The big bull was often seen crossing the river and courting the cows of the Gros Ventre river bottom. While I know I will miss him, I will have a favorable lasting memory of him going down in a battle over a “hot” cow. Thanks to biologist Mark Gocke for helping me obtain this photo and permission to use it! Of course, thanks to Doug Brimeyer for supplying it.

Elvis: Late October 2010

Elvis: Late October 2010

Looking for a Silver Lining:

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of this magnificent animal. It is difficult to look too long at the necropsy photo. Still, I saw Elvis breeding with numerous cows over his two or three year reign as the top bull. Undoubtedly, his genes are now being shared with the new crop of young moose in the area. It will take a few years to start seeing his distinctive rack showing up again. Less Eye Infections: During the same period, at least two other cows fell to the eye disease. One was seen circling blindly in the Gros Ventre River before being put down. During the 2014 fall season, I only saw one cow with the eye problems. That cow eventually damaged her leg in the GV campground after being chased through a campfire grate by a bull during the rut. Hopefully, the worst of that contagious disease is behind the moose of the Tetons. Despite the loss of one of the patriarchs, everything seemed back to normal this year. Washakie filled in, sharing space with Cody and Custer. Another big bull, Lewis strolled through after spending his summer along the Snake River at Moose Junction. There are links to additional pages for Washakie and Custer below. I feel so fortunate to able to witness this yearly pageant, even though I get more attached to them than I know I should!

Elvis Video on YouTube:

Gaston 2007

Gaston: After comparing photos in my Lightroom catalog, I don’t think I ever saw Gaston again after the 2010 rut season, even though other bulls look similar to him. Hopefully, he just moved to a different part of the valley and is still passing along his genes to calves there.

Other Featured Moose:

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Comments (12)

  1. Steve Loop

    Mike well done here throughout the years with Elvis and this write up on him. sorry you lost a friend.

  2. Darla Jackson

    I know you love those big animals. I hate to see you lose one of them. Darla

  3. Hi Steve, Earlier in the year, we lost a couple of cows. Then Elvis. Late in the Fall, Washakie was limping badly and I was so scared he’d be wolf bait soon. By the time they moved out to the sagebrush, he was getting around fine, and by now, you couldn’t tell he ever had a problem. We were wishing the same for Elvis the second year with his eye, but it apparently still had issues.

  4. They are wonderful to see, and I enjoy every minute of watching them. Your knowledge of them has certainly made me understand and appreciate them even more.

  5. Walter Cook

    Love this post. Keep ’em coming! Walter

  6. Lars Haggstrom

    Hi Mike,
    This was a great post on Elvis. Every time that you post something new you always hit at the heart of the subject. You have taught me to look at wildlife and landscape at a different angle to get more quality photos. I’m sure that there are a lot of your followers that would agree with me. Thanks so much for all that you do every day. I always look forward to see what new information you will have about our great outdoors.
    Best regards,
    Lars

  7. Lars,
    First—thanks for taking the time to make a post! Second—I appreciate your comments and strive to offer as much quality content as I can here. If anything I write or show helps someone, I have succeeded. Mike

  8. What a wonderful tribute to Elvis! He was the first moose I photographed at Gros Ventre of course with your help (my tripod issue 😉 ). Because of that, he always seemed somewhat special to me. While I have a lot of photos of him, I don’t think any compare to what you’ve shared with us here. I especially like the one from 2012 in the cottonwoods and willows. I think I know where it was taken. That just may be the one that I’d like to purchase from you.

  9. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, really images of Elvis the Moose. I see you have followed him for a long time and it was sad to see that he passed on due to injuries and age. I hope one day to get back to the Tetons and see Moose this time.

  10. Thanks Mike. Very well done.

  11. Hi Jim, Bill, and Lowell,
    Thanks again! I’ve had to read that post quite a few times now looking for spelling errors and so forth. I have to admit, I get a little choked up towards the end each time. I spend so much time with the moose in the fall that I definitely get emotionally attached to them. I am happy to hear people enjoyed this one. MJ

  12. Thanks for sharing the life and history of Elvis. Enjoy your photography, narratives and the information you share.

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