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Elk shot at Wind Cave park to retrieve radio collar

RAPID CITY (AP) -- A park official had to shoot and killed a cow elk at the Wind Cave National Park in southwestern South Dakota to recover a malfunctioning radio collar, the U.S. National Park Service said.

Park officials told the Rapid City Journal that biological science technician Duane Weber used a .30-06 rifle on Friday to kill the cow elk, which was wearing a radio collar carrying two years' worth of electronic information that marked the elk's travels.

The collar, which is part of an elk study, was nearing the end of its active life but had failed to disconnect from the elk's neck on radio command, officials said. Once radio signals stopped, possibly in a week or two, it would have been nearly impossible to find the elk and recover the collar.

Weber spent Thursday on foot in an unsuccessful hunt with a tranquilizer gun, the solution preferred by park officials. He needed to get within 35 yards to have a good dart shot, however, and didn't come within 100 yards.

Using a rifle Friday, Weber shot the elk at between 100 yards and 200 yards. Even then, it wasn't easy, said Greg Schroeder, chief of natural resources for the 33,851-acre park.

"It took him most of the day to get in the right spot and finally figure out which elk it was," Schroeder said. "There were other elk around, and I think four with radio collars. It was a long process for Duane to figure out which elk he was listening to."

Weber used slight differences in sound transmitted by the other collars compared the one that was supposed to have disconnected to help identify the elk he wanted. And he confirmed the right animal by noting its head movement, which exposed the antenna and produced a slightly stronger signal.

"He was able to listen and watch enough to be confident he had the right one," Schroeder said.

Park officials said tooth, blood and other samples were taken from the elk for research purposes. The animal's carcass was left in the park to decompose.

The elk was one of 389 pushed out of Wind Cave by helicopters in March in an effort to reduce the size of the herd. It also was one of about 100 elk that managed to get back in to the park from adjoining Custer State Park through a weak spot in the fence, officials said.