A Dolores woman jumped into a flowing irrigation ditch off County Road 22 on Sunday to rescue three deer that were struggling to escape.
Lenore Sparks was walking near her home when she saw the deer attempting to climb out of the steep canal, which is lined with heavy plastic to prevent erosion.
“They kept sliding back, and they were shivering badly,” she said.
A family member called Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who sent out an officer. Meanwhile, neighbor Eric Breitenbach obtained a pallet with a metal cord and lowered it along the embankment to give the does a way to climb out, but they didn’t use it.
“I decided to jump in and help them,” Sparks said. “They were looking fatigued.”
By using a lariat and sheer strength, she captured each deer and hauled it toward the bank through 2 feet of flowing water.
Family members and neighbors helped pull the shivering animals out of the steep ditch, and they were set free. A fourth deer continued down the canal and apparently found a way out.
Sparks, 35, went to check the canal the next morning and she saw all four does grazing in a nearby field.
“They all looked fine, I was so glad to help them. They were surprisingly light,” she said.
Residents and officers rescue wildlife from time to time, said CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski, but extreme caution is required because wildlife can be very unpredictable.
“Great work on their part,” he said.
It is OK for citizens to help wildlife in trouble, but they should never risk their own lives to do so, Lewandowski said. Panicked animals can cause injury, and they may not understand a person’s intentions.
Calling wildlife officials when wildlife need help was the correct first step, added Matt Thorpe, area wildlife manager for CPW. Officers have training and carry specialized equipment and tranquilizers to aid them in an animal rescue. A wildlife officer is always on call.
Sparks is concerned the slick plastic may trap other animals in the ditch, which is operated by Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. The private company recently installed the plastic to prevent erosion and loss of water into the soil.
A phone message left with the water company was not returned.
Structures such as ramps and grates can be installed to provide footing for animals to escape water traps, Thorpe said.
CPW will work with landowners and ditch companies to explore solutions in areas where wildlife mix with man-made structures.
“That’s part of the job is to help wildlife and people coexist,” Thorpe said.
Just last month, wildlife officials and a Ignacio rancher teamed up to rescue an elk mired in an irrigation ditch, he said.
Residents with a wildlife emergency are advised to call 970-249-4392, the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office at 970-565-8452 or the CPW office in Durango at 970-247-0855.