Elk (Wapiti) Fact File
The elk is the second largest species of deer on Earth. Their body measures 1.6-2.7m (5.2-8.9ft) long with a height at the shoulder of 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) tall. Their weight is highly variable ranging from 147-499kg (325-1,100lbs). Males are significantly larger than females.
Across much of their body the elk is colored light brown with darker patches across the face, neck and legs. Their rump is cream colored.
At the end of the body is a stubby tail.
Males have a pair of larger antlers which can branch out up to 1.2m (4ft) wide. Each year these antlers are shed and a new pair will grow in.
While they grow the antlers are covered by velvet. Once they finish growing the velvet is shed.
The elk is a herbivore. Their diet is made up of seedlings, twigs, berries, bark, mushrooms and wildflowers.
They may feed on hundreds of species of plants. This highly adaptable species feeds on a range of woody plants, herbs and grasses.
147 – 499kg
1.6 – 2.7m (5.2-8.9ft)
1.2 – 1.5m (4-5ft)
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Elk can be found across North America and Eurasia. Here their range covers Bhutan, Canada, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia and the United States.
The species has been driven to extinction in Mexico.
Introduced populations of this species have been established in Italy and New Zealand.
They can be found in a range of habitats including deciduous woodland, boreal forest, mountain areas, upland moors, grasslands, pasture and meadows.
During the mating season (known as the rut) males will wrestle using their antlers and also creating loud noises which help them to establish dominance in their range.
In their natural range calving occurs during May to June whereas in New Zealand this has become delayed by 6 months to suit the seasons there. This change occurred within the two years after the species was introduced there.
On most occasions a single calf is born at the end of the 240 to 262 day gestation period with twins being born on rare occasions. The calf is standing within 20 minutes of birth.
Sexual maturity occurs between 1.5 and 2.5 years old.
To demonstrate discomfort the elk will grind its teeth, curl back the lower lip and lay their ears back against their head.
These animas are social with herds growing to have as many as 400 members. Males tend to form a harem during the breeding season but the herd tends to be led by a female.
Outside of the breeding season herds will split in to all male herds and herds of females and their young.
During winter they will move to lower valleys where they can paw through the snow to obtain grass to browse on.
Predators and Threats
Humans affect their population through hunting though harvesting has been controlled across much of their range. Their antler velvet has been prized for use in traditional medicine.
Habitat loss and fragmentation along with disturbance from human activities has further decreased their population.
The elk is also known as the Canadian elk or the wapiti.
Their alternative name of wapiti comes from a Native American word meaning ‘light colored deer.’
Elk is the name for what is commonly known as the moose in Europe making the naming of both species confusing.
A group of elk is known as a gang.
USFWS/ Tony Hough, National Elk Refuge volunteer
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Brook, S.M., Pluháček, J., Lorenzini, R., Lovari, S., Masseti, M., Pereladova, O. & Mattioli, S. 2018. Cervus canadensis (errata version published in 2019). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T55997823A142396828. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T55997823A142396828.en. Downloaded on 16 February 2021.
Altina Wildlife Park. 2021. Wapiti – Altina Wildlife Park. [online] Available at: <http://www.altinawildlife.com/wapiti/> [Accessed 16 February 2021].
American Museum of Natural History. 2021. Wapiti | AMNH. [online] Available at: <https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/north-american-mammals/wapiti> [Accessed 16 February 2021].
Animals. 2021. Elk | National Geographic. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/e/elk/> [Accessed 16 February 2021].
Cabi.org. 2021. Cervus canadensis (wapiti). [online] Available at: <https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/119059> [Accessed 16 February 2021].