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Elk/Wapiti
Cervus elaphus

Hoofed Animals
Deer Family (Cervidae)

Measurement: Size: 230-240 cm/140 cm at the shoulder Weight: 300-350 kg

Description: This large deer is second only to the moose in terms of sheer bulk. They are larger than mule and white-tail deer, as well as the less common woodland caribou with which they are most commonly confused. Elk have a dark brown coats, and bright white rumps. Unlike mule and white-tail deer, they lack any white on the head. Their antlers can be very large, growing back, almost paralleling the line of the back. There is often a single tine that grows forward towards the front of the nose. Like white-tail deer, the antlers begin with a single tine, off of which numerous smaller tines fork. A large stag (often improperly referred to as a bull), may have 6 or more tines on each antler.

Range: Elk are found throughout the Rockies, and are one of the most popular animals in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Recently, park wardens in Banff have begun to forcibly evict the elk from within the townsite in an attempt to return the Bow Valley to a more natural predator-prey regime, Several hundred elk were removed in the winter of 1999-2000, and an aggressive program of aversive conditioning is being used to discourage the remaining elk from hanging around Banff townsite.

Diet: Elk are not very fussy when it comes to diet. They eat a variety of grasses, flowers, and herbs. They are particularly fond of anything that comes in a planter, making them the bane of gardeners in Banff and Jasper. In the winter, they may strip the bark off of aspen trees, leaving a dark scar on the otherwise lightly coloured bark. In some areas, entire stands of trees may show scarring up to the 1.5 m (5 ft) mark.

Reproduction: In mid-August, metabolic changes in male elk result in the production of testosterone. This begins the process of calcification of the antlers. As blood flow is decreased, the velvet peels off, and the stags will rub the antlers to remove the velvet. Soon, the stags begin to bugle. This call, once identified, is never forgotten. Bugling serves to attract hinds (improperly called cows) and also to challenge rival stags. There is evidence that the more vocal the bull, the better his chances of attracting a harem. The stags will size each other up, and may resort to shoving matches as they lock their antlers together. The sharp antlers can also result in some serious injuries.

During the rut, the stag has little in the way of leisure time. He may have little time to feed, and his energy is rapidly depleted through both mating and battling other stags. This leaves him in poor condition heading into the harsh winter. As a result, many dominant stags will not survive the winter.

Gestation varies between 249 and 262 days, with the calves arriving in May or early-June. Female elk can be exceedingly aggressive when protecting their calves. Do not approach elk at any time.

Notes: Every visitor to Banff and Jasper quickly becomes familiar with the urban elk that continually wander the streets and backyards of Banff. The name 'wapiti' comes from the Shawnee language and translates literally to 'white rump'. Their immense antlers can weight upwards of 14 kg (31 lbs), and can stretch 1.5 m (5 ft). The urbanization of elk may be partially responsible for the drop in moose populations in Banff National Park. As wolves were deprived of deer and elk as their principal prey, this put increased predation on moose. Also, liver flukes carried by elk can be fatal to moose. This double-whammy is believed to have been a key factor in the decline in moose populations. It is also one of the main reasons that wardens have begun to evict elk from Banff townsite

Within Banff and Jasper townsites, many visitors are injured every year because they get too close to elk. These large animals are very powerful and their front hooves very sharp. While they may choose to live in urban areas, they are still wild. Remember, Wild Means WILD!.

Related Links:

Hinterland Who's Who - Elk

Search for recent Elk/Wapiti sightings

Hire a guide to help you spot some Elk/Wapiti


All Material Ward Cameron 2005

 

 

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