rocky mountain national park bruno the elk
The beloved Bruno the elk in Rocky Mountain National Park; (photo/Loren Schrag, Good Bull Outdoors)

Thieves Steal Head, Antlers Off Famous Elk; Rangers Seek Info

Rocky Mountain National Park’s iconic ‘Bruno’ the elk apparently died naturally — but then, someone illegally beheaded the carcass.

The Rocky Mountains lost a living legend last month. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) visitors noted they found the remains of “Bruno,” aka “Kahuna” or “Big Thirds,” a famous bull elk who’d lived in the park for years, on March 20.

The aging animal died of natural causes after a group tracking it lost touch with it before a storm hit the area. But the next time anybody saw Bruno’s remains, someone had illegally removed his head.

The National Park Service (NPS) launched an investigation into Bruno’s post-mortem beheading in early April. Park Rangers estimate the incident occurred sometime between March 20 and March 22.

Notably, one antler was still on the skull — he had shed the other one sometime before his death.

A Beloved National Park Resident Passes

The giant elk found fame among photographers, conservationists, and tourists thanks to his consistent presence in RMNP and distinctive antlers.

One group that tracked Bruno’s progress throughout multiple seasons said mountain lion tracks surrounded the carcass. The small mom-and-pop wildlife photography group said they were “the last to see him alive and the first to see him passed on,” and reported the missing antler.

Emotional responses poured into the Facebook announcement.

The language in the NPS post brimmed with a similar sentimentality.

Rocky Mountain National Park’s wildlife is a resource for all to enjoy and protect,” it asserted. “The skull and antlers of this popular elk were cut and illegally removed from [the park]. This elk’s remains should be allowed to return to the earth in RMNP, where he brought much joy to thousands of park visitors over many years.”

Park Officials Seek Information

The NPS encourages anyone with information about the mutilation to contact the RMNP tip line at 970-586-1393 or email ROMO_Tipline@nps.gov.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.