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Elk Cervus elaphus


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Elk (Red Deer), male
credit:  Bill Ebbesen/CCSA

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Alternate name: Wapiti

Family: Cervidae, Deer view all from this family

Description A large, tan-colored ungulate with a darker neck and white rump. In season, the male has a shaggy neck mane and enormous antlers consisting of one main beam and, typically, six points. Antlers are usually shed in February and regrow over the summer. Summer coat is sleek and tawny brown; winter coat is grayish brown. Fawns are spotted. Tule Elk (C. e. nannodes) from parts of California are lighter overall in color and smaller. The Elk is smaller and paler than the Moose, without palmate antlers; larger than deer, with unique dark neck/white rump coloration.

Dimensions 2.1-2.6m, 11-17cm, 178-479kg; / 2.0-2.5m, 8-19cm, 171-292kg

Breeding Yearlings of both sexes can breed, and the gestation period is 240 days, with a single calf (rarely twins) born in June. Newborns weigh about 15kg.

Habitat Alpine & subalpine habitats, Forests & woodlands, Meadows & fields, Grasslands & prairies

Range Plains, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, California, Northwest, Western Canada

Discussion During the fall rut in September-October, males repeatedly give a high-pitched “bugle” vocalization. Lives in herds sometimes exceeding 200 in open habitats, smaller groups in forested areas. Maximum life expectancy is 20 years. Hunted to extinction throughout eastern states by the mid 1800s; recent reintroductions of small populations into Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania are encouraging. Overall population size is now approaching a million animals. The smaller C. elaphus subspecies from Europe is called the Red Deer and typically has rougher antlers that grow up and inward rather than up, out and backward. Browses and grazes on a variety of plant species, preferring open or brushy habitats to mature forest. Most populations in the US are found on federally protected lands such as national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.