One member of Packwood’s abundant elk herd, dubbed “Hammock Head” by locals, earned regional notoriety for getting himself caught in a hammock late last year and spending the winter and early spring proudly wearing his furniture crown.
It seems the elk enjoyed his fame. Or he’s a prodigy fashionista. Or, he’s just outraged by lawn furniture. In any case, Hammock Head struck again. On July 30, he collected a lawn chair from a resident’s garage.
After trying to locate the elk the previous week, biologists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) successfully tranquilized and detangled Hammock Head on Tuesday, Aug. 8 for the second time in just a few months.
A spokesperson for WDFW on Wednesday, Aug. 9 confirmed it was the same elk; he was marked with a yellow ear tag when tranquilized last May.
Throughout his hammock phase, the elk’s distinguishable face and hammock crown made posters, motivational signs, sweatshirts, stickers, articles by Seattle- and Tacoma-based news outlets, and the front pages of The Chronicle and Morton’s weekly paper The East County Journal.
When the hammock debris remained last spring despite the bull shedding his antlers, WDFW intervened.
Now that Chair Head has been taken care of, biologists are urging caution and education about living with wildlife. Elk that were previously docile can quickly become aggressive when the rut begins in late summer and early fall as bull elk battle one another for females.
They’ll also vigorously rub their antlers on trees and shrubs to shed velvet off their new antlers. Hammock Head was likely in this process when he destroyed someone’s hammock — and took some pieces with him.
Residents are also encouraged to put away yard items that aren’t in use, such as clotheslines, rope, chairs and hammocks, in order to help prevent entanglement.
“It is imperative that people do not feed the elk,” WDFW’s Becky Elder wrote in an email to The Chronicle in Centralia, which reported on the story last week, later adding, “Feeding can lead to conditioning where the animal associates humans with food, which leads to behaviors that present a danger to the public. These situations often lead to the offending animal being euthanized. This outcome is completely preventable.”
Additionally, she said, elk have complicated digestive systems that are “vastly different” from humans. Eating the wrong food can result in discomfort, illness or even death for the elk.
According to previous reporting by The Chronicle, the Puyallup Tribe estimated the South Rainier herd, of which Packwood’s elk are members, had 1,193 total elk in 2022. The Upper Cowlitz River Valley area sub-herds haven’t been counted in recent years, but residents have estimated the population to be around the low hundreds.
People can learn more about living with wildlife and avoiding entanglement at bit.ly/WD FW-Elk.
Injured or orphaned wildlife can also be reported on the WDFW website. In the event of an immediate public safety issue, wildlife violation, or an injured or dangerous animal, the WDFW enforcement office can be reached at 360-902-2936 or via email at email@example.com.