MOAB, Utah – A wild bull elk gored a shepherd in the mountains in eastern Utah, puncturing one of the man's lungs, knocking him unconscious and forcing him to walk several miles for help.
Sheepherder Hugo Macha, 31, was in good condition in a Grand Junction, Colo., hospital Friday, three days after the rare attack in the La Sal Mountains.
"He was already worrying about his sheep," said Polly Hill, co-owner of the 1,000 sheep Macha tends, in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. "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."
Macha, who is from Peru, told rescuers that he'd been sitting on the ground and leaning against a tree Tuesday evening when the elk appeared and started heading toward him. He tried to get away, according to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officer Dennis Shumway, but the animal ran him down, knocked him to the ground and gored him with its antlers.
When he came to, the elk was nowhere to be found.
Macha told officials he waited in hopes that he'd be found by hunters, and tried to call for help on his cellphone but wasn't getting service. Early the next day, he started a long walk to find a fellow shepherd about 5 miles away.
"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."
Macha's friend ran to seek help from workers with the wildlife employees, who were nearby loading crates they had just used to relocate wild goats, and began frantically speaking to them in Spanish.
With help from an officer who spoke the language, they learned the story and were able to find Macha.
"He walked up to meet us, and his shirt was soaked in blood, and it was down his one pant leg," Shumway said. "He lifted up his shirt and there was fatty tissue hanging out of this wound on his upper right back."
Conservation officers put him on an IV, bandaged his wounds and arranged for a medical helicopter from Grand Junction.
The attack may have something to do with the start of the elk mating season, known as the rut, when male elk become aggressive and occasionally fight to the death with other bulls as they jockey for and protect females.
"Obviously, this doesn't happen normally," Shirley said. "With the start of the rut, maybe the bull had him mistaken for another bull."