The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says melting snow east of Bend has revealed the carcasses of 19 elk which it believes were killed by an avalanche.
The Bulletin reports hikers near No Name Lake and Broken Top mountain peak found the carcasses last week.
Wildlife biologist Jamie Bowles, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, says the dead elk included bulls, cows and calves. He says they were noticeably injured in the avalanche.
The elks’ bodies had broken limbs and antlers and torn hides. Their bodies were twisted and contorted.
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The carcasses were remarkably well preserved by the snow, only being exposed within the last few weeks. Temperature is the biggest factor in determining rate of decay after an animal dies.
The decomposition process is driven by bacteria and insects, neither of which are active at low temperatures; this is of course the reason we store perishable food in refrigerators and freezers. Likewise, very high temperatures will kill of the same bacteria and insects, preventing decay.
Oregon is currently experiencing a drought after a warm, dry winter according to the U.S. drought portal, likely the driving factor behind the emergence of the elk carcasses.
Biologists are not exactly sure when avalanche happened, but they suspect it occurred last summer after historic snowfall in the winter 2016-17.
Bowles says all the elk will be left in place since it’s unnecessary and dangerous to move them.