Utah wildlife officials went from thrill to chill in a matter of moments Wednesday during a relocation of Rocky Mountain goats on the La Sal Mountains east of Moab.
While loading boxes used to transport the six recently released mountain goats, a sheepherder approached the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) staffers and began speaking somewhat frantically in Spanish.
It wasn't until a Spanish-speaking officer entered the discussion that the story became clear: A bull elk had injured his friend and fellow sheepherder.
The group headed for a meadow where the man waited not more than 300 yards from where they were loading trucks.
"He walked up to meet us and his shirt was soaked in blood and it was down his one pant leg," DWR conservation officer Dennis Shumway said. "He lifted up his shirt and there was fatty tissue hanging out of this wound on his upper right back."
Conservation officer Ben Wolford, an advanced emergency medial technician who trains other conservation officers, immediately took the man's vital signs and determined he likely had a punctured lung, among other injuries.
Hugo Macha, the 31-year-old Peruvian shepherd, was put on an IV, given oxygen and bandaged while arrangments were made for a medical helicopter to come from Grand Junction, Colo.
Macha told Shumway he had been sitting on the ground leaning against a tree about 6 p.m. Tuesday when a big bull elk came into his sight and started to get closer. The bull noticed the man and kept coming. Mancha decided he had to move.
"He got up to get away, and it ran him down," Shumway said. "It knocked him down and gored him with its antlers. He said he lost conciousness, and when he came back to, the elk was gone."
Macha has been watching about 1,000 sheep on the LaSal Mountains for Mark and Polly Hill of Mack, Colo., since March. Polly Hill visited Macha Thursday afternoon and found him in good spirits, but worried about his flock.
"He was already worrying about his sheep. It was great to see him. Those guys are like family to us," Hill said. "The doctor said he was lucky because the way the lung was punctured it kept it from collapsing. He might be able to come home Sunday. We will take care of him until he is back on his feet."
Hill said that Macha had been seeing hunters in the previous days in the area where he was attacked so he waited to see if they could help him.
The hunters never came and he returned to his trailer. Macha had a cell phone, but it didn't work on that spot of the mountain. Realizing he needed help, Macha set out about 4 a.m. to find his fellow sheepherder, roughly five miles away. He arrived around 10 a.m., just about the time the wildlife officers were preparing to leave after the successful mountain goat release.
"This guy was a complete stud," said conservation officer Jay Shirley, who was at the scene. "He was in a lot of pain. He couldn't even sit down because it hurt so much, and yet he walked that far. He hadn't had food or water and no sleep. He was amazing."
Elk attacks are uncommon. The start of the elk mating season known as the rut has just started. Mature bulls become aggressive as they form harems of cows to breed with during the fall.
"Obviously, this doesn't happen normally," Shirley said. "With the start of the rut, maybe the bull had him mistaken for another bull."
There are no plans to try to locate the bull, but Shirley said officers will keep an eye out for aggressive bulls in that area.
The Hills couldn't believe what they were hearing when the Grand County Sherriff's office called to let them know what had happened to their employee.
"We had to ask them two or three times if it was for real," Polly Hill said. "My husband has had a guiding and outfitting business for quite some time and we have never heard of anything like this. Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagained that this would happen to one of our guys."
Shumway said the officers had little time to appreciate the completion of a successful wildlife relocation before coming to the man's aid.
"It was a pretty incredible transition from working as a team on the wildlife side to go to the other extreme so rapidly," he said. "It was a great experience for all of us. It was great to be there and to be able to help somebody."
DWR director Greg Sheehan was pleased to hear about Wednesay's successful release and the way his staff responded to the medical situation.
"I am proud of the way our employees serve the public and also of the many skills they bring to the job that are so vital in situations such as this," he said.