A 9-year-old bull elk that had been raised in captivity since it was a calf killed a ranch worker Thursday morning.
The worker, John Renner, 56, went into the elk's pen at the Wyman Living History Ranch and Museum between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. to feed the animal, according to reports from other ranch workers.
Authorities found Renner slumped over, face down in a feeding trough when they arrived, said Moffat County Sheriff's Deputy Rick Holford.
The cause of death wasn't immediately known, Holford said. Moffat County Coroner Owen Grant said an autopsy will be performed. He told the Daily Press that he did not see an obvious cause of death.
Jean Taylor, who lives and works at the ranch on U.S. Highway 40 east of Craig, said the elk had blood on his antlers shortly before she and another worker discovered Renner in the pen.
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The man who authorities say was killed by an elk at a ranch east of Craig on Thursday was a Vietnam War veteran and the father of twin teenage boys, a close friend of the man said.
John Wayman Renner had been in Craig for about three weeks, said Dave Sheek, Renner's friend.
Sheek and Renner served in the U.S. Marines together in Vietnam and had traveled the country in recent years, working odd jobs, Sheek said.
Renner had been working at the Wyman Living History Ranch and Museum for about a week, Sheek said.
Authorities think a 9-year-old elk attacked Renner on Thursday morning when Renner went into the elk's pen to feed the animal.
Sheek said Renner's survivors include his sons, who live in Indiana, a brother in Oregon, a brother in Washington, a sister in Oregon and a sister in Hawaii.
Funeral arrangements have not been made, Sheek said.
Taylor said she saw what she thought was a jacket in the pen but that she realized it was Renner and called 911.
Lou Wyman, the owner of the ranch, said Renner, who had worked at the ranch for only a few days, was not supposed to go into the pen to feed the elk.
Wyman hired Renner to work on the ranch and do construction in the museum, he said.
He was staying at the Colorado Inn on Victory Way in Craig.
The elk has never attacked a worker in the nine years Wyman has had it, Wyman said.
The elk is used to being around humans but is sometimes aggressive when workers feed it, Wyman said, so workers feed Clyde through the fence.
When Clyde was a calf, Wyman fed him with a bottle, he said.
The elk has been a big attraction, and ranch workers and visitors feed the elk through the fence, Wyman said.
Wyman said he planned to visit with wildlife officers before deciding what to do with the elk.
More than likely the elk will be killed, Wyman said.
Wyman is not required to put the elk down because of the incident, sheriff's Deputy K.C. Hume said.
Wyman's ranch is one of two elk ranches near Craig.
Mike and Vicki Crackel own a ranch with 55 elk west of town.
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The State of Colorado regulates the size of fences on elk ranches but does not regulate who can work on the ranches or how close they can get to the animals, a state official said Thursday.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture's Brand Inspection Division licenses elk ranches, such as the Wyman Living History Ranch and Museum east of Craig. Authorities think a bull elk at Wyman's ranch killed a ranch hand, John Renner, 56, on Thursday morning when Renner entered the elk's pen. Rick Wahlert, deputy brand commissioner, said Wyman's ranch has been licensed since 2004. Before that, Wyman had an elk ranch south of Craig, which also was licensed, Wahlert said. Elk ranches have to renew their licenses every year.
There are 96 licensed elk ranches in Colorado, Wahlert said. Wyman's facility has always been in compliance with state regulations, Wahlert said.
Wyman said Thursday that workers are not supposed to go into the pens to feed the elk but that Renner did anyway.
There are no laws or regulations regarding workers going into elk pens, Wahlert said.
"That would be a common livestock practice," he said. The state requires elk ranches, what the state calls alternative livestock farms, to have 8-foot fences all the way around.
The fences are designed to keep domestic elk in and keep wild elk out, Wahlert said.
Wild elk often try to get close to the food and captive elk inside the pens, he said.