ESTES PARK — The problems started a few weeks ago, when Lee Kemper strapped a leash on Destiny the elk — who was recovering from a rectal infection — and took her and his llama for a walk.
A few neighbors complained to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Now Kemper and his wife, Molly, are on a mission — writing Gov. Bill Owens, taking out advertisements in local papers, collecting signatures for a petition — to keep Destiny, her mother and her grandmother at the Kempers’ ranch.
“I’m not going to give up very easy,” Lee said. “This is their home.”
Nine years ago, 5-day-old Annie the elk became separated from her mom. A passer-by saw the baby surrounded by coyotes and called a local veterinarian for help.
That veterinarian asked the Kempers, who own Keno’s Llama & Guest Ranch in Estes Park, to feed and care for the baby until it was ready for the wild, Lee said.
But when they tried to reintroduce her to the wild, she came back pregnant with baby Hannah.
Then the same thing happened with Hannah and, in June, Destiny was born.
“We tried to give them to the wild,” Lee said. “But every time they go, they just come back pregnant.”
Soon after Destiny was born, the Kempers took her to a Colorado State University veterinary hospital because she had a rectal infection. Molly said the doctor told them to give the baby medicine and lots of exercise.
So they put a harness and a leash on her, strapped another leash to their llama, Iryie, and walked them around their rural mountain neighborhood.
But when people complained to the Division of Wildlife, officials told the Kempers the elk had to go, Molly said.
Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said he could not comment except to say that it’s illegal to possess wild elk in Colorado and that the case is under investigation.
Mark Salley, a spokesman for Owens, said the governor has received an appeal from the Kempers, but Owens cannot intervene and override state law.
Molly said division officials want to take the two youngest elk and reintroduce them to the wild. But they’re worried about Annie, the oldest, whom they say officials want to put in a research facility where she may contract chronic wasting disease.
“I’ve put $17,000 into this girl,” Lee said, “and I’ve not asked for a dime from the state.”
Now they hope the state will let them keep the three elk together. Even the llama, who has learned to make elk calls, would miss them, Lee said.
“This animal has a right to live where she wants to live,” Lee said. “She has domesticated herself.”