A herd of elk died this week after they fell through ice at Echo Canyon Reservoir near Pagosa Springs in Southwestern Colorado.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife spokesperson Matt Robbins said that the incident, which killed about 20 animals, likely occurred on Sunday night. He related that the herd ventured into the ice about 50 feet from shore but the ice gave way due likely to the combined weight of the animals.

Robbins said that the pressure exerted by the doomed herd on the sheet of ice was too much. Weighing nearly 10 tons, the herd cracked and compromised the ice resulting in the animals falling and drowning into the freezing waters. 

Misha Garcia, a Pagosa resident, discovered the herd of elk washed ashore when she visited the area on December 30 to take photos. She took photos of the animals that were frozen to their death and shared it online via Instagram. Wildlife agency officials were then notified of the incident.

"This morning when I was out shooting the sunrise I came across an entire herd of elk completely frozen at the shore of the lake," Garcia wrote.

Robbins noted that while such an incident is unfortunate, it is a natural occurrence albeit it does not always happen.

"It doesn't happen all the time or very often, but it is a natural occurrence," Robbins said. "There were just too many of them for the ice to hold."

Big game animals have the tendency to fall through ice. A similar accident, for instance, also occurred in 2008 at the Paonia Reservoir in Delta County, when a herd of 19 elk drowned after they fell through the ice.

About three years ago, wildlife officials and law enforcement officers also rescued three elk that fell through the ice of a private pond near Pagosa Springs. One of the animals died but the two others were saved.

Officials from the agency removed the carcass from the waters and eventually from the shoreline and took them to a landfill. They also advised residents and tourist not to try help an animal stuck in cold water or ice for their safety.

An elk can weigh from 300 to 1,000 pounds and it is considered one of the biggest species of the deer family in the world. They are also among the largest terrestrial mammals in North America. The animals, also known as wapiti, travel in groups, particularly during winter.

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