An elk photographed at Oklahoma City Zoo in Oklahoma
An elk photographed at Oklahoma City Zoo in Oklahoma
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Elk

Common Name:
Elk
Scientific Name:
Cervus canadensis
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Herbivore
Group Name:
Gang
Average Life Span In The Wild:
8 to 12 years
Size:
Height at the shoulder: 4 to 5 feet
Weight:
325 to 1,100 pounds
IUCN Red List Status:
Least concern
Current Population Trend:
Increasing

Elk are also called wapiti, a Native American word that means “light-colored deer.” Elk are related to deer but are much larger than most of their relatives. A bull (male) elk's antlers may reach 4 feet above its head, so that the animal towers 9 feet tall.

Preparation for Breeding Season

Bull elk lose their antlers each March, but they begin to grow them back in May in preparation for the late-summer breeding season.

In early summer, elk migrate to high mountain grazing grounds where the cows (females) will give birth. Each cow typically has a single calf, which can stand by the time it is 20 minutes old.

Antlers and Mating

During the late summer breeding season the bugling of bull elk echoes through the mountains. These powerful animals strip the velvet off their new antlers using them in violent clashes that determine who gets to mate with whom. Males with the bigger antlers, typically older animals, usually win these battles and dominate small herds.

Elk During the Winter

In the winter, elk reconvene into larger herds, though males and females typically remain separate. The herds return to lower valley pastures where elk spend the season pawing through snow to browse on grass or settling for shrubs that stand clear of the snow cover.

Population Distribution

Elk were once found across much of North America but they were killed off and driven to take refuge in more remote locations. Today they live primarily in western North America, especially in mountainous landscapes such as Wyoming's National Elk Refuge and Yellowstone National Park. Some eastern U.S. states have reintroduced small elk herds into heavily wooded wilderness areas.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
Photograph by robert grove, National Geographic Your Shot

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