Rumors of mass graves holding the carcasses of hundreds of dead elk, slaughtered at the incompetent hands of those in charge of rounding up the animals on the northern portion of the Ute Indian Reservation is "absolute rubbish," says James Innes.

Innes said he should know since his company is in charge of rounding up elk for the Ute Tribe. In his response to claims his crews are killing off the animals right and left, the New Zealand-native said, "if we were cruel to animals we'd be run out of business."Innes' company, Helicopter Wildlife Management, has been rounding up everything from bear to caribou and moose for Indian tribes, other government entities, and private organizations throughout the northern hemisphere for 20 years. When it comes to wildlife management practices, he believes the Ute Tribe is doing a better job than any other reservation in the United States.

That's not to say each and every animal survives the capture process.

There are losses, but they are minimal, says Ute Tribe Fish and Game Director Bobby Chapoose Jr. "During the capture process there's about a 2 percent loss and then about 3 percent at the yards."

The mortality rate was exaggerated recently when vandals cut wires at the tribe's holding facility. About 130 elk escaped and several died from the stress, said Innes.

"No one knows what happened, but animals were hurt. It's a waste of energy and finances, and it's the elk that suffer. They have to be rounded up again."

Over the past two years the tribe has sold 280 elk to the Lone Cone Ranch in Colorado. Pregnant cows went for $3,000 a head and heifers for $2,000. No bulls were sold. Chapoose figures the tribe nets about $1,400 per animal after subtracting overhead expenses.

About 322 elk captured late last year and early this year will be traded for 62 Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, 150 wild turkeys, 50 antelope and 10 Wood bison. The Wood bison will be crossed with the tribe's American bison to produce a stronger breed, Chapoose said.

As these animals reproduce and strengthen local herds they will benefit non-tribal members as they migrate off of tribal lands onto state and federal ranges, Chapoose said.