Elk

(Cervus elaphus)

Elk

Factoid:

Elk are strong swimmers.

Status:

Stable.

Population:

Total population unknown.

Threats:

Elk once lived throughout most of the United States and Canada, but the species range has dwindled because of uncontrolled hunting for sport and food and because of land development. In the 19th century, ranchers shot them to reduce competition with livestock for food.

Survival:

Elk generally live about 15 years in the wild and 25 years in captivity.

Elk can be distinguished from other deer by their large size, brown or tan bodies, and yellowish-brown tail and rump patch. They have thick necks and slender legs and can stand as tall as 5 feet at the shoulder. Their long legs enable them to run as fast as 35 miles per hour. Males weigh from 600 to 1,100 pounds and have six-tined antlers that can grow up to 5 feet long. Antlers begin growing in early spring and fall off in winter. The females are smaller, about 450 to 650 pounds, and lack antlers. Mating season is in August or September. Females give birth to one or two calves each spring, and newborn calves weigh up to 40 pounds.

Elk can live in many different environments. Today they occur mainly in wooded and grassy areas in Washington, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, but also in select areas of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. When able to move freely, elk in mountain areas summer in high mountain pastures and winter in dense forests in lower wooded slopes.

Woods and grasslands abound with various types of elk food, including leaves, sedges, shrubs, mushrooms, and lichens. In addition to eating leaves and bark from trees, elk use seedlings to mark their territory. Males strip off bark with their antlers, and females pull off bark with their teeth. Then both males and females rub the seedlings with chins and muzzles to cover the plants with scent.

During mating season, bull elk "bugle," a loud whistling noise that attracts females and challenges other males. These calls can be heard mostly at dusk and dawn, when elk are especially active.

National Parks:

Elk are found in North Cascades National Park, WA; Olympic National Park, WA; Mount Rainier National Park, WA; Glacier National Park, MT; Crater Lake National Park, OR; Redwood National Park, CA; Lassen Volcano National Park, CA; Yosemite National Park, CA; Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, CA; Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, CA; Yellowstone National Park, WY; Grand Teton National Park, WY; Rocky Mountain National Park, CO; Voyageurs National Park, MN; and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN and NC.

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