Elk habitat map

Elk habitat map DEFAULT

Elk in Wisconsin

elk banner

Once widespread here and across North America, elk were eliminated from Wisconsin in the 1880s due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss. Over 130 years later, they once again live in the central and northern forest regions of our state. From a population of 25 elk reintroduced in 1995, and with the help of the second reintroduction efforts that started in 2015, the state’s total elk population has now surpassed 400 animals.

Thanks to the support of multiple partners and the backing of Wisconsin citizens, the bugle of rutting September bulls is back and here to stay!

Populations and Management

The Black River elk herd was estimated to contain approximately 115 animals as of July 2021. With approximately 25 calves expected to have been born this spring, the herd is Growing rapidly and settling in well to their new home. Vehicle collisions have been the leading cause of mortality in the Black River herd, and no elk have been killed by predation since January of 2017. After the initial few years post reintroduction, the population is beginning to climb and the Black River herd is now and established wild herd in central Wisconsin.

January-December 2019 Black River elk herd update[PDF]

An important message about elk viewing in Jackson County

To ensure the successful reintroduction of elk into Jackson County, please respect the elk and their habitat. Disturbances to the elk, such as calling them or attempting to view them by foot, may force the elk into areas in which they may not otherwise reside and can make them more susceptible to predation, vehicle collisions, or other undesirable circumstances.

While it is understandable that people will have the desire to observe the elk, in the interest of the animals’ health the public is asked to refrain from pressuring or calling to the elk during the rutting season. This type of disturbance can disrupt breeding activities and separate the elk from their family units, leading to slower population growth.

The many partners involved in the elk reintroduction are happy to see high public interest and excitement surrounding the elk reintroduction. Please respect the elk's space and view them from afar.

Elk are found in two distinct ranges in Wisconsin. The largest, and oldest, elk herd in the state is the Clam Lake elk herd. The Clam Lake herd ranges across Ashland, Bayfield, Price, Sawyer and Rusk counties in northern Wisconsin. The other, the Black River elk herd, is found in the forested region of Jackson County in the central part of the state. Reports on each herd can be found below.

Current management practices are aimed at securing the future of elk in Wisconsin. Ongoing research is being utilized to gain additional knowledge regarding survival and recruitment rates, habitat use and movement patterns. The first state-managed hunt for elk in Wisconsin was held in 2018 in the Clam Lake Elk Range only. Visit the Elk Hunting page for more information.

Clam Lake herd

Exciting rutting activity by a Clam Lake bull.

collared elk

The Clam Lake elk herd was estimated to be approximately 330 individuals as of July 2021 With the addition of new animals through natural reproduction within the herd and the translocation of elk from Kentucky in the spring of 2017 and 2019, the herd has grown to a level that can sustain an annual bull-only hunting season and now occupies much of the Clam Lake Elk Range. This population has grown slowly, but steadily since reintroduction in 1995. Wisconsin will again hold a very limited hunt in the Clam Lake Elk Range this fall, the State's fourth modern-day elk season. The first three seasons have been an outstanding success, with 14 bulls harvested by 15 hunters.

January-December 2019 Clam Lake elk herd update [PDF]

Although they currently occupy approximately 90 square miles of the designated elk range, the herd has grown at an average rate of 13% annually. However, growth rates have varied from as high as 30% to as low as -16% since 1995. Primary causes of mortality include predation by wolves and black bears and vehicle collisions. Primary habitat used by the elk consists of aspen and pine forests interspersed with forest openings, lowland conifers and water bodies.

Clam Lake elk range

Download map of range [PDF]

Based on the habitat suitability model derived from a study by Didier and Porter, the Wisconsin Elk Study Committee (WESCO) determined that the United States Forest Service (USFS) Great Divide District (GDD) of the Chequamegon National Forest (CNF) near Clam Lake was most suited for an elk reintroduction.

The Clam Lake elk range was recently expanded by 506 square miles so the CNF-GDD currently consists of 1,221 sq miles (781,440 acres) in portions of Ashland, Bayfield, Price, Rusk and Sawyer counties in north-central Wisconsin. State Highway 77 and county highways GG and M converge near the center of the GDD at the community of Clam Lake. The GDD is mostly under National Forest ownership (81% or 370,656 acres). The remaining 19% (86,944 acres) is privately owned, with relatively little in agricultural production.

Black River herd

Black River elk range

Download map of range [PDF]

In December of 2001, the Natural Resources Board (NRB) approved the Black River Elk Herd (BREH) Management Plan. The Black River Elk Range (BRER) is approximately 320 sq. miles and located in the Central Forest region of eastern Jackson County.

Chronic wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a degenerative disease of the brain and nervous system tissue that infects members of the cervid family (deer, elk, etc.). CWD is present in white-tailed deer in Wisconsin but has not yet been detected in an elk in Wisconsin. All hunter-harvested elk, and all elk that die of other causes that a viable sample can be taken from, are tested for CWD.

Health monitoring of translocated elk

In evaluating and establishing a testing protocol for disease testing and the overall health of elk moved from Kentucky to Wisconsin, the DNR worked with our sister state agency, the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), and the United States Department of Agriculture, Cervid Health program (USDA) to establish the necessary transport and importation testing that was required by these agencies.

We also considered additional diseases that may be of concern to both wildlife and domestic animals within the state. The outcome was a testing protocol that required the elk being translocated be held in quarantine for a minimum of 120 days while multiple rounds of whole herd testing occurred. Each year, the testing protocol was evaluated by these agencies, including the results of previous years’ tests and any necropsies (the animal equivalent to an autopsy) of translocated elk.

Mandatory testing included tests for bovine tuberculosis and Brucella abortus, as well as an extensive risk assessment that evaluated the possibility of chronic wasting disease in the region of Kentucky where elk were being translocated from. In addition, the DNR tested for diseases that primarily affect wildlife or, in some cases, primarily affect domestic animals and can spill over into wildlife, including bovine viral diarrhea virus, bluetongue, epizootic hemorrhagic disease as well as a complete blood count with an evaluation of both the red and white blood cells.

Prior to translocation, the elk were also treated with anthelmintics to reduce external and internal parasite loads as much as biologically possible.

2019 translocation documents

Elk Advisory Committee

The Elk Advisory Committee reviews and makes recommendations on the reintroduction and management of wild elk. The committee advises the Wildlife Policy Team on a variety of topics such as herd monitoring and growth strategies, research priorities, herd health issues and other reintroduction strategies. The committee will provide input on other elk herd management and policy decisions as requested.

Committee meeting minutes

Ongoing projects

don't shoot an elk

Department staff members are tending to numerous projects to ensure the success and sustainability of our Wisconsin elk herds. Some recent and ongoing projects include:

  • surveyed citizens on their awareness and views of elk and their management in Wisconsin [PDF]. Results showed that, in general, the public had very positive attitudes towards elk and support their management within the state;
  • posting elk management area signs prior to the deer hunting season to ensure that hunters are aware of elk in the area;
  • distributing elk identification sheets [PDF] to local registration stations and popular establishments to educate hunters prior to deer hunting season;
  • retrieving trail cameras that were deployed and looking at captured photos in order to obtain a bull population estimate and assess calf production and survivorship;
  • completing habitat work for elk including creating two large wildlife openings in the Flambeau River State Forest that are planted with winter wheat and rye -- they will be replanted with clover and timothy next spring or early summer;
  • working on an assisted dispersal of Clam Lake elk to ensure that the entire Clam Lake elk range is utilized; and
  • obtaining weekly locations on all currently collared elk including males, females and calves as well as doing a weekly mortality check.

Viewing Clam Lake elk

clam lake exhibit

An interactive touch screen kiosk has been retrofitted into an existing signboard located at the junction of state highways 77 and GG in Clam Lake. The kiosk is designed to provide visitors to the area with expansive information about the resident elk herd and their habitat.

The program provides information about the history of elk in Wisconsin and even has a video clip of the original elk reintroduction. Most importantly, the program contains other tools and information to help visitors experience elk including wildlife spotting guides, maps and directions to nearby viewing areas.

Please note that the interactive kiosk may not be available during winter months.

Tips [PDF] for viewing elk near Clam Lake

Sours: https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/elk

The Elk (Cervus canadensis), also known as wapiti, is among the largest land mammals in North America.  There are currently four subspecies of elk living in the United States today, with a total population estimated to be between 1 and 1.2 million. The population of Elk varies greatly in the U.S. from east to west and state to state. That brings us to the topic of this article, where we will dive into what the elk population is in each U.S. state, any notable areas to find them, and also which states do not have any elk.

U.S. states with Elk populations

Below we will list some info about Elk populations in each U.S. state. We’ll talk about the populations that are estimated in each state as well as where they can be found and any interesting facts about Elk that are specific to the particular state.

First let’s omit some states from the list. The following 19 states currently do not have breeding populations of elk, although some may allow elk to be raised on private ranches. The elk population is growing and expanding in the U.S. which means that there’s always a possibility of elk moving in from neighboring states. Many states have also implemented successful reintroduction programs, so some of these states may have elk in the future.

However at the time of writing this, there is believed to be a breeding elk population in 31 of the 50 U.S. states.

19 U.S. states that do not have Elk populations:

  1. Alabama – extirpated since the early 1800s
  2. Connecticut – extirpated by mid 1700s to early 1800s
  3. Delaware – only evidence of elk in this state is prehistoric
  4. Georgia – it is debated whether there were ever elk in Georgia
  5. Hawaii – there have never been elk on Hawaii
  6. Illinois – extirpated between 1800 – 1850
  7. Indiana – extirpated
  8. Louisiana – extirpated
  9. Maine – extirpated
  10. Maryland – extirpated
  11. Massachusetts – extirpated, last elk recorded in 1732
  12. Mississippi – extirpated by 1900
  13. New Hampshire – elk may never have lived in New Hampshire
  14. New Jersey – extirpated
  15. New York – extirpated, last elk recorded in 1847
  16. Ohio – extirpated
  17. Rhode Island – unlikely to have had a population at any time
  18. South Carolina – extirpated
  19. Vermont – extirpated

Many of these 19 states had a population of elk at one time, as you can see from the map below. Historically elk ranged across much of the country, but the over hunting and habitat loss that came with the European settlers nearly wiped them out by the early 1900’s.


Elk population in 31 U.S. states

The following population estimates were taken from state government websites and other authoritative sources. They are accurate to the best of our knowledge.

State NameElk Population
Arizona35,000 - 45,000
California12,500 - 13,500
Kansas200 - 500
Michigan500 - 1,500
Minnesota130 - 250
Montana120,000 - 150,000
Nebraska2,500 - 3,000
Nevada14,500 - 20,000
New Hampshirenone
New Jerseynone
New Mexico70,000 - 90,000
New Yorknone
North Carolina150 - 200
North Dakota700 - 1,000
Rhode Islandnone
South Carolinanone
South Dakota6,500 - 8,500
Utah68,000 - 80,000
West Virginia85
*Populations estimates are believed to be accurate but not guaranteed as of 01/2021

1. Alabama

There have not been any natural populations of elk in Alabama since the early 1800s. For a brief period in 1916 a small group of 55 Rocky Mountain elk were brought into the state by the Department of Game and Fish. They were released in five counties to attempt to reestablish the population. Due to various problems such as disease, poaching and crop damage, this did not work out and the last of the elk was reported killed by 1921. It is still occasionally discussed by the Department of Conservation but as of 2020 there were no plans to try this reintroduction experiment again. You can read more about the “Alabama Elk Experiment” at the DCNR page. 

2. Alaska

Elk are not native to the state of Alaska, however in the 1920’s some were brought into the state as ranch animals. A re-introductory effort was made in the 1950’s with some elk from Pacific coast herds (Rocky Mountain elk and Roosevelt elk). It was not successful on the mainland, however some elk population was able to establish itself on Raspberry Island and Afognak Island, as well as some of the other islands in the Aleutian island chain. The most recent estimations we could find said there are about 900 elk total on Rasberry and Afognak Island, and another 400 on other islands, mainly Etolin and Zarembo Island. This puts the elk population total in Alaska around 1300 animals.

3. Arizona

When elk population had dwindled in the early 1900’s, 83 elk from Yellowstone were transplanted to the White Mountains region of Arizona. This was successful and the population has grown steadily, so much so that elk hunting is now a big sport in Arizona. An Arizona vacation guide said herds “can commonly be seen in the areas around Flagstaff, Williams, Payson, Herber Overgaard, Show Low, Pinetop Lakeside, Greer, Alpine and generally any forested area” and typical habitats include the White Mountains area, Mogollon Rim and Kaibab Forest. They are also found in the ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper forests on the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The most recent population estimates we could find for the state were between 35,000 – 45,000 elk in Arizona.

4. Arkansas

The eastern elk was once native to the pine and hardwood forests of Arkansas, however the species was extinct by the mid 1800’s. After an failed reintroduction attempt from 1933-1950, another attempt was made in 1981. 112 elk from Colorado and Nebraska were brought into the Buffalo National River area. The elk herd is monitored and the last estimate was about 450 elk in Arkansas. Planning and sustaining proper habitat for the elk in the Buffalo River area continues to be an important part of maintaining a healthy elk herd.

A great place to see the elk in Arkansas is “the six miles of Arkansas 43 and Arkansas 21 in Boxley Valley “ at dusk and dawn, especially in the autumn.

History of elk in Arkansas

5. California

California is home to three species of elk, the Roosevelt elk, the Rocky Mountain elk, and the Tule Elk which is found exclusively in California. It is thought that at one time Tule elk occupied much of central California, at least half a million strong. Due to hunting and increasing settlement, by 1870 very few Tule elk remained. Through the introduction of laws and diligent conservation, they were saved from extinction. You can read more about the history of the Tule elk here.

Current estimates put the elk population in California at about 5,500 – 6,000 Tule elk, 5,500 – 6,000 Roosevelt elk, and about 1,500 Rocky Mountain elk. This puts the total elk population in California at approximately 12,500 – 13,500 elk.

6. Colorado

Colorado boasts the largest population of elk in North America with an estimated 290,000. During the Colorado Gold Rush of the mid 1800’s the elk were over hunted and populations declined sharply. The first hunting regulations were put in place in the early 1900’s, and the Forest Service estimated in 1910 that Colorado’s elk population was down to 500-1,000 animals. Through regulations and halts on hunting, and reintroduction of 350 elk from Wyoming, populations began to recover and today elk are found in abundance in Colorado.

7. Connecticut

The eastern elk was once present in Connecticut, however due to overhunting and habitat loss, they were extirpated from the state by the mid 1700’s to 1800. There is no breeding population of elk in Connecticut today.

8. Delaware

There is currently no breeding population of elk in Delaware. Prehistoric (2500 years ago) evidence of elk has been found in Delaware, however scientists believe they were gone from the state even before European settlers arrived.

9. Florida

Florida may have historically had some elk in the northern part of the state, but any breeding populations were extirpated a long time ago like many of the eastern states. A small number of elk reside in Florida today on private ranches. The only mention of any wild elk we could find was a small herd of 10 seen in the 1990’s on Buck Island Breeding Ranch.

10. Georgia

Georgia currently does not have a breeding population of elk. It is a bit of a debate as to if there historically were ever eastern elk in the state. Some people have claimed to have spotted a few elk here and there in the very northern part of the state in recent years, but those sightings aren’t confirmed. Since Georgia’s neighbors to the north Tennessee and North Carolina do have elk populations, it’s likely that elk from those states occasionally pass through Georgia. We could not find any mention of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources considering any plans to move elk into the state.

11. Hawaii

Since Hawaii is such a remote island chain, all large mammals that could not fly or swim there on their own, have been introduced by humans. There are 8 big game species on the islands that have been introduced at various times: blackbuck antelope, axis deer, spanish goat, hawaiian ibex, black hawaiian sheep, mouflon sheep, vancouver bulls and wild boar. But no elk. Even though there are no wild elk in the Hawaiian islands, there is a cattle ranch that is raising a few and using their meat for burgers. That’s right, you can get an elk burger on Maui at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store.

12. Idaho

Elk have been present in Idaho for a long time. The population has had ups and downs over the last 200 years and has also shifted in north, central and southern Idaho. Today there is a healthy population estimated at about 120,000 elk. The Idaho Department of Fish & Game has a very comprehensive elk management plan to monitor populations and regulate hunting, which has become very popular in the state.

13. Illinois

There is not currently any breeding population of wild elk in Illinois. They did once inhabit the state, but were extirpated between 1800- 1850. Some private ranches in the state raise elk, and the occasional elk sighting that is reported is attributed to animals that have wandered off these ranches. In the late 1990s re-introduction of elk was discussed and a habitat survey done, but no plans to  go forward with reintroduction of elk to Illinois are in effective at the time of writing this article.

14. Indiana

Indiana does not have any population of wild elk. Many hunters would like to see an attempt at reintroducing elk to the state, however the department of natural resources does not currently have any plans to do so. Part of the issue may be lack of viable habitat, as finding large tracks of contiguous woods in Indiana is difficult. The occasional elk that is spotted in the state usually has escaped from a farm.

15. Iowa

Elk were extirpated from Iowa by the late 1800’s, with the last recorded native elk in the state seen in 1871. At one time it is believed the elk population was even higher than the bison population in the state. Today only small groups remain on private land, such as at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. There, a small group of 15-20 elk help to restore the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

16. Kansas

Elk were extirpated from Kansas by the late 1800’s like many other states. However a small herd was kept at the Maxwell Wildlife area, which is a 2200 acre enclosed wildlife refuge. Elk were taken from Maxwell in a planned reintroduction effort at Fort Riley Military Installation and Cimarron National Grasslands during the 1980’s and early 90’s. Not much has been published about the elk population in recent years, however in the 2000’s data from elk sightings suggested that small herds of elk are sometimes present in multiple other areas of the state. A research paper published in 2006 estimated 120 animals. We weren’t able to find a more recent total but it would likely be < 500 today.

17. Kentucky

The eastern elk was eradicated from Kentucky by the 1880’s. However Kentucky is one state that took elk reintroduction seriously and the Kentucky Elk Management Plan began to bring Rocky Mountain elk into the state starting in 1997. The group of about 1500 elk that had been introduced by the end of the last stocking in 2002 has grown to an estimated 13,100 by 2019. This gives Kentucky the largest elk population east of the Mississippi River. The elk are focused mainly on sixteen counties located on the Cumberland Plateau.

18. Louisiana

There is an interesting article about a man in Louisiana that hit an elk with his truck, and the article said that some captive elk were “set free” in 2005 when hurricane Katrina hit the and demolished fences on the elk enclosures, releasing them to the wild. Aside from these few randomly roaming elk, we did not see any mention of Louisiana having plans to reintroduce the species to the state. In fact, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is very concerned about chronic wasting disease and has strict regulations about importing outside cervid (deer family) animals or meat into the state.

19. Maine

The eastern elk disappeared from Maine, along with the rest of New England in the 1700’s.  No reintroduction plan has been established for Maine.

20. Maryland

Maryland currently does not have a breeding population of elk. Apparently the state was seriously considering a reintroduction plan, however opposition from local counties has shelved the idea for the near future. Some of the arguments against elk reintroduction were fear of increased car accidents, damage to crops and disease spread to livestock. With elk in neighboring states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia though, it’s possible they could start reestablishing themselves in the future.

21. Massachusetts

Like the rest of New England, the eastern elk that once roamed in Massachusetts were extirpated by the late 1700’s. The official record is that the last elk was shot in Worcester County in 1732. The occasional Mass resident reports a sighting, like this person who thinks they saw two on Mount Greylock, but nothing has been confirmed. There are currently no plans for reintroduction of elk to Massachusetts.

22. Michigan

Elk, which were extirpated from the state in the late 1800’s, have made a comeback in Michigan. In 1918 seven elk were brought back into the state and today that little group continues to grow. Today you can visit them in Pigeon River Country State Forest in the northeast Lower Peninsula. The elk population in Michigan is estimated at 500 – 1500 elk.

23. Minnesota

Minnesota is another state that lost their elk to hunting and settlement by the early 1900’s. Revival effort started to be made as early as 1913 by bringing elk in from other states. Introduced elk weren’t able to successfully establish a breeding population until after 1935. In the early 1980’s elk from Manitoba began to cross the boarder to spend spring and summer in Kittson and Roseau counties. According to a survey in 2020 the total elk population in Minnesota is around 130 – 250 elk. You can find a lot of good information about elk management in Minnesota on their Department of Natural Resources page.

24. Mississippi

Mississippi has no population of breeding elk. It was once home to elk, and likely the subspecies Eastern elk. But when the Eastern elk went extinct due to over hunting by the end of the 1800’s, so too were all elk gone from Mississippi. We could not find any plans to reintroduce elk into the state, but perhaps that will change in the future.

25. Missouri

Missouri is one of the more recent states to begin an elk reintroduction program. In 2011, 34 elk from Kentucky were brought into the Peck Ranch Conservation Area. Through some additional stocking and natural breeding, the population in Missouri today is approximately 200 elk.

26. Montana

Elk were historically plentiful in Montana, but with European settlers their numbers declined significantly. In 1910 there were only about 5,000 elk remaining in the northwest corner of the state. Elk were periodically brought in from Yellowstone in an effort to boost the population, and it worked. Today elk are found in much of western and central Montana, and the current population is thought to be about 120 – 150,000 elk.

27. Nebraska

The native elk of Nebraska were extirpated in the state by 1900. They began to reappear in the state during the 1950’s and 60’s and slowly established a population . The herds are mainly located in western and central Nebraska. It was difficult to find official numbers, but an article published at the end of 2019 quoted the Game and Parks department as giving an estimate of 2500 – 3000 elk.

28. Nevada

Reintroduction of elk to Nevada in the mid to late 1900’s has been a huge success. We couldn’t find many specifics of the history except to say the population grew quickly year after year. The most current estimate found was 17,500 in 2015. Based on past history it is likely closer to 20,000 plus in 2020.

29. New Hampshire

There is currently no breeding population of elk in New Hampshire. According an an interesting article in the Wildlife Journal, elk are not native to the state. A few were introduced in 1903 as a gift, and again in 1933. The population grew locally, enough to become a nuisance to crops. The state allowed a two day hunting spree to bring the numbers down. 20 or so elk were thought to have remained by 1955, and it is believed they were slowly hunted down to zero.

30. New Jersey

There are no wild elk found in New Jersey today, and we did not find any evidence of planned reintroduction efforts. However since neighboring Pennsylvania does have an elk population, it is possible a roaming elk or two may cross the boarder occasionally.

31. New Mexico

Almost all of the elk had been extirpated from New Mexico by the early 1900’s. Reintroduction efforts with Yellowstone elk began as early as 1910 and finished in 1966. The elk have flourished. As of September 2019 estimates for the elk population in New Mexico are 70,000 – 90,000 animals. Some of the highest densities of elk are found in the San Juan Mountains near Chama, the Jemez and Sierra Nacimiento, Mount Taylor, Gila National Forest, and Carson National forest. One of the most popular elk viewing spots is the Valle Vidal. Unfortunately the elk sub species that was originally native to New Mexico, Merriam’s elk, is extinct.

32. New York

It is believed the last elk was killed in New York around 1847. Several attempts at reestablishing a small population were made between 1900 – 1940, mainly in the Adirondack region. These attempts were ultimately unsuccessful due to poaching and disease. In the late 1990s a report was released that stated there were three areas in the state that could feasibly sustain a small population of elk, the Adirondacks, the Catskills and and area in the south western part of the state. As of today no reintroduction effort has yet been made.

33. North Carolina

It is thought the last native elk in North  Carolina was killed in the late 1700’s. An elk restoration was initiated in 2001-2002 when 52 elk from the Manitoban subspecies were released into the Cataloochee Valley area of Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Today, 150 – 200 elk reside in the state, with some of that population straying outside of the park boundaries. For more information see the North Carolina wildlife resources commission page.

34. North Dakota

According to the state’s game and fish page, elk are located on the Little Missouri National Grasslands, on and around Killdeer Mountain, and in Cavalier County. Elk in North Dakota were doing so well around 2010 that the state felt the population was becoming too large in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and 900 elk were removed. We weren’t able to find any specific recent population numbers, and this may be because a population distribution and monitoring effort that began in 2019 is still ongoing. Pervious estimates suggest approximately 700 – 1000 elk in the state. The larger portion of the population continues to be in the western part of the state, especially west of the Little Missouri River.

35. Ohio

Ohio hasn’t had a population of wild elk in over 175 years. Many conservationists are hoping for a reintroduction program in the state. Ohio State University performed a feasibility study and found three main areas that they believe could support a reintroduction, Wayne National Forest, Shawnee State Forest and the reclaimed strip mine areas. Ohio’s priority remains their deer management program, but perhaps elk could be in the states future.

36. Oklahoma

According to a quote from the Wildlife Department made in a 2019 news article, the current elk population in Oklahoma is about 5,000. The largest free ranging elk herd in the state is in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. Other large herds can be found at the Pushmataha, Cookson Hills, Spavinaw, and Cherokee wildlife management areas. The state has managed annual hunting to keep the population within a reasonable range, since there are not many natural predators of the elk left in Oklahoma.

37. Oregon

There are two subspecies of elk found in Oregon. The Roosevelt elk and the Rocky Mountain elk. The Roosevelt elk are found mostly in the western part of the state in the Cascade and coastal ranges. The Rocky Mountain elk stay mainly in the eastern part of the state with a large group in the Blue Mountains. Estimates from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife page put the population of Roosevelt elk at about 59,000 and Rocky Mountain elk at more than 74,000. This brings the total elk population in Oregon to approximately 133,000.

38. Pennsylvania

The last native elk was reported in Pennsylvania in the 1870s. In the early 1900’s reintroduction efforts began by bringing a small number of elk in from Yellowstone. A careful balancing act of hunting, protection and land use have seen the elk numbers up and down in the state. Today there are about 1,350 elk in Pennsylvania.

39. Rhode Island

There is no breeding population of elk in Rhode Island. A local game preserve is trying to get a bill passed that would allow elk to be imported onto private land for the purposes of hunting. As of writing this article it does not appear that bill has passed. The Rhode Island DEM is very concerned about any imported cervids (members of the deer family) potential to introduce chronic wasting disease to the local populations of animals in the deer.

40. South Carolina

South Carolina does not currently have a population of elk. However there are elk next door, in Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina. In September of 2020 the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources confirmed an elk from the Smoky Mountain herd had wandered down into the Greenville Watershed. The state confirmed that they do not currently have plans to establish a population of elk in South Carolina. But it will be interesting to see what the SCDNR decides to do if more elk continue to cross the boarder.

41. South Dakota

After being extirpated in the late 1800s, elk have been successfully reestablished in South Dakota. In the April 2020 state wildlife report, estimates put the elk population in the Black Hills at approximately 6,000 – 8,000, and the population in Custer State Park at approximately 460. Small herds also exist on prairies in Fall River, Meade, Butte, Bennett and Gregory counties.

42. Tennessee

Native elk held on in Tennessee until 1865. A restoration plan with elk from Alberta took place in 2001 – 2008 in Scott, Morgan, Anderson, Claiborne and Campbell counties. This was the designated elk restoration zone. Hunting was prohibited until 2009 to help the population grow. Today there are about 450 elk in Tennessee.

43. Texas

The last of Texas’s Merriam’s elk lived in the Guadalupe Mountains in the western part of the state, however they were sadly extirpated by overhunting and habitat loss by the late 1800s. However between strategic reintroduction and possibly some natural boarder crossing from New Mexico, a small population of elk has been reestablished in the state. More recently, Rocky Mountain elk have gained a foothold in the Trans Pecos and eastern Panhandle. It is believed many of these elk traveled across the boarder from New Mexico. We were not able to find any recent population estimates other than a 2008 estimate of 1,600 elk.

44. Utah

Utah has an estimated elk population of around 80,000 animals. They are most common in the mountainous areas, spending the summer in the forests and meadows and winter in the valleys. Utah has seen a rapid increase in elk population between the mid 1970’s and early 1990’s. This is attributed to the availability of habitat. Today, the population growth is more stable due to careful monitoring and harvesting. Elk are the top big game species in Utah next to mule deer.

45. Vermont

There are no wild elk living in Vermont today. There are small populations kept on private lands, and sometimes these escape like this story of 16 farm elk that got loose in Derby in 2017. We did not see any talks to reintroduce elk, and deer remain the main cervids of the state.

46. Virginia

The last known native elk in Virginia was killed in 1855. In 1919 Virginia did attempt an elk reintroduction and released an unknown number of the animals into several counties. Two small herds held on for many years, but ultimately they dwindled and the last elk died around 1970. However the rising elk population in neighboring Kentucky began to spill over into Virginia in the late 1990’s. This natural expansion plus the addition of 71 relocated elk, puts Virginia’s elk population of about 250 today. The elk are mainly found in Buchcanan, Dickenson and Wise counties.

47. Washington

Washington has an estimated 60,000 Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt elk. The Roosevelt elk tend to be found in the western part of the state, and the Rocky Mountain elk in the east. The two biggest herds, out of the states 10 herd locations, are the Yakima herd (approximately 12,000 elk) and the Mount St Helens herd (approximately 11 – 13,000 elk). The other eight herds are the Olympic, Willapa Hills, Colockum, Blue Mountains, North Rainier, South Rainier, Selkirk and North Cascades.

48. West Virginia

Until recently, elk had been extirpated from West Virginia for more than 100 years. A restoration effort began in earnest in 2016 when a small number of elk were imported from Kentucky, and then another small group in 2018 from Arizona. These elk were brought into the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County. The current population estimate for elk in West Virginia as of fall 2020 is 85 animals.

49. Wisconsin

Habitat loss and overhunting wiped out the elk from Wisconsin by the 1880s. Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in the northwest portion of Wisconsin received the first 25 reintroduced elk in 1995. The main elk herd is still there today, with a smaller herd in the central portion of the state at Black River State Forest. As of 2020 Wisconsin population is estimated at 400 elk.

50. Wyoming

According to this article in September of 2020 the estimated population of elk in Wyoming is 112,900. The elk herds in Wyoming, of which there are about 35, range in size from a few hundred elk to around 11,000 elk. The largest elk herds are the Laramie Peak/Muddy Mountain herd and the Jackson Hole herd. In fact, every year almost 200,000 elk from surrounding areas migrate down into the National Elk Refuge in Jackson to spend the winter months.

A quick look at Elk

Elk are one of the largest members of the deer family, and are one of the largest land mammals in all of North America. Elk are found in many countries around the world, and have proven to be an adaptable species when introduced to new areas. Sometimes they are too adaptable, and threaten to out-compete native wildlife for food and land. Elk were once plentiful across much of the United States, but with the arrival of European settlers and no regulation on hunting, they were nearly wiped out. Some sub species of elk have been able to make a comeback through restoration and protection of habitat, and careful management and reintroduction efforts by state wildlife authorities. However two subspecies, the Eastern Elk and the Merriam’s elk, have been extinct for over 100 years.


Elk have stocky bodies with thin legs and a short tails. The different sub species vary in size with the Roosevelt elk being the largest. Height to the shoulder can range from 2 ft 6 inches to 4 ft 11 inches. Length from nose to tail averages 5 ft 3 inches to 8 ft 10 inches. Male elk are larger than the females, with an average weight of 392 – 1096 pounds to the females 375 – 644 pounds.

Only the males have antlers, which they grow and shed each year.  While they are growing they are covered with a soft layer of skin called “velvet”. The velvet sheds off in the summer when the antlers are fully grown, and the antlers themselves will fall off later in winter.


Elk are mainly grazers that like to feed on native grasses. They also supplement this with tree bark in the winter, and flowering plants and tree sprouts in the summer. Elk eat about 20 pounds worth of vegetation a day. Because of this, large herds can have a serious impact on grasslands and forests. They have a four-chambered stomach that allows them to digest all of this fibrous vegetation.


Elk can live in a wide range of habitats, with the most important factor being consistent availability of food for grazing. They often can be found in mountainous terrain. In North America the only areas they have not successfully adapted to are deserts, tundra, or the Gulf Coast region. In the fall they grow thick coats of hair which allow them to live in very cold climates. In the summer they rub up against trees to help remove this coat. It is believed that today’s North American subspecies are descendants from elk that lived in  Beringia, which was the area that used to connect the two continents of Asia and North America during the Pleistocene epoch. Elk often move into areas of higher elevation during the spring, and move back down into valley’s during winter.


For most of the year, the females and males in a herd will stay in separate groups. During the mating season (also called the “rut”) of late summer to early fall, the two groups will come together. The males, also called bulls, will compete for access to females. They try to intimidate each other with loud vocalizations and displaying their antlers. This vocalization, which can sound like a screeching high pitched whistle, is called “bugling” and can be heard over large distances. If these methods are not successful in getting one of the males to back down, they will use their large antlers to fight each other.

Males will have a harem of 20 or more females, which they defend from other males. He will “herd” the females to keep them within his range, and court them until they are ready to mate. Females normally produce one offspring, and the gestation period is about 240- 260 days. While giving birth a female will isolate herself and the baby from the main herd for about two weeks. The young elk are fully weaned off mothers milk after two months.


As we mentioned above, many elk will move to higher elevations in the spring, and back down to lower elevations in the winter. With large herds containing thousands of elk, this can be quite an impressive migration! One of the best known migrations in the United States is when elk from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem travel in numbers of over 200,000 strong south into Jackson, Wyoming. In Jackson they will remain for several months on the National Elk Refuge.

 Subspecies of Elk

According to Wikipedia there are 6 subspecies of North American Elk. In this article we only discussed these North America elk, however there are eight other subspecies found in other parts of the world such as Siberia and Asia.

North American Subspecies

  • Roosevelt’s elk: Pacific Northwest into northern California. Also introduced to Alaska and British Columbia
  • Tule elk: found only in California
  • Manitoban elk: midwestern United States (especially North Dakota) and the southern Canadian Prairies
  • Rocky Mountain elk: Along the Rocky Mountain Range and surrounding areas of the west. Often used in reintroduction efforts in eastern states.
  • Eastern elk: eastern United States and Canada, extinct
  • Merriam’s elk: southwestern United States, extinct

Tips for safe elk viewing

While an elk may seem less threatening than a grizzly bear, you should still exercise caution when around these large animals. Elk can cover short distances very quickly, and can feel threatened if you are too close. They can also be more aggressive during the mating season. And don’t forget those large antlers, you don’t want to tangle with that!

  • Pull off roadways onto a shoulder
  • Stay close to your vehicle
  • If an elk approaches you, retreat to your vehicle. If you are not near a vehicle, back away and give the animal room to pass you
  • Keep dogs in the car, or at least on a leash
  • Maintain a safe distance, about 75 feet. If the elk stops grazing or changes it’s behavior, you are too close. Use binoculars or a spotting scope to get a closer look while remaining further away
  • Never feed elk or leave food unattended
  • Dusk and dawn are prime viewing times

Best places to view North American elk

There are many great places to view elk in the U.S., especially in states that are heavily populated. Here are a few of the most well known:

  • National Elk Refuge, Wyoming: This boasts the largest wintering concentration of elk in the world, over 200,000. Just remember to visit in the winter, best viewing between December and April.
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: A large population live within the park and are a common animal to see, along with Bison. Some of the best viewing spots for elk are Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado: One of the best spots is the Trail Ridge Road, a stretch of nine miles that covers a large grazing area. Some other park hot spots are Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park and Upper Beaver Meadows on the east side, and Harbison Meadow, Holzwarth Meadow and the Kawuneeche Valley on the west side.
  • Baniff National Park, Alberta Canada: Banff Springs Golf Course, Bow Valley Parkway, Tunnel Mountain Drive, Vermilion Lakes Drive.
  • Great Smokey Mountain National Park, North Carolina: For a spot east of the Mississippi River, try the Smokies. Most of the elk reside in the Cataloochee Valley, which is in the southeastern section of the park.


Categories Mammals, Regional WildlifeSours: https://wildlifeinformer.com/elk-population-by-state/
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Although eastern elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis) were extirpated from the eastern United States in the 19th century, they were successfully reintroduced in the North Carolina portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the early 2000s. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) is evaluating the prospect of reintroducing the species in other locations in the state to augment recreational opportunities. As a first step in the process, we created a state-wide elk habitat suitability map. We used medium-scale data sets and a two-component approach to iden- tify areas of high biological value for elk and exclude from consideration areas where elk-human conflicts were more likely. Habitats in the state were categorized as 66% unsuitable, 16.7% low, 17% medium, and <1% high suitability for elk. The coastal plain and Piedmont contained the most suitable habitat, but prospective reintroduction sites were largely excluded from consideration due to extensive agricultural activities and pervasiveness of secondary roads. We ranked 31 areas (≥ 500 km2) based on their suitability for reintroduction. The central region of the state contained the top five ranked areas. The Blue Ridge Mountains, where the extant population of elk occurs, was ranked 21st. Our work provides a benchmark for decision makers to evaluate potential consequences and trade-offs associated with the selection of prospective elk reintroduction sites.

Study Area

Publication typeArticle
Publication SubtypeJournal Article
TitleElk habitat suitability map for North Carolina
Series titleJournal of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Year Published2015
PublisherSoutheastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Contributing office(s)Coop Res Unit Atlanta
Description6 p.
First page181
Last page186
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
Google Analytic MetricsMetrics page
Sours: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70177818


Elk Distribution in the United States

Elk are one of the most fascinating—and for sportsmen, compelling—animals that occupy the continental United States.  They are substantially larger than the white-tailed deer many people are accustomed to seeing.  A mature bull elk commonly weighs 700 lbs, while a white-tailed buck will generally weigh closer to 100 lbs.

According to the venerable Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation the range of our elk has grown considerably in recent years.  The distribution of these large ungulates will never be the same as it was several hundred years ago, but there are now several states east of the Mississippi River with thriving populations of elk.

Elk Distribution Map

It is truly a huge achievement in conservation to have populations of elk flourishing in the midwestern and eastern United States.

If you love the idea of waking up in the morning and seeing elk out your front window, here are a few Trophy Properties you might like to dream about calling home:

  1. Elk Galore Butte, MT
  2. PK Ranch Colorado Springs, CO
  3. Huntsman Estates Coeur d’Alene, ID
  4. Old Wolf Creek Ranch Prineville, OR
  5. Eel River Frontage Myers Flat, CA

Abundant wildlife is a substantial part of what makes our landscape here in the United States and Canada so inspiring.  We are very pleased to see species like the elk expanding their range and increasing their numbers for future generations to enjoy.


Sours: https://sportsafieldtrophyproperties.com/landnews/2017/05/04/elk-distribution-united-states/

Habitat map elk


Large antlered species of deer from North America and East Asia

This article is about the species called "elk" in North America. For the species called "elk" in Eurasia (Alces alces), see Moose.

"Wapiti" redirects here. For other uses of the names, see Elk (disambiguation) and Wapiti (disambiguation).

The elk (Cervus canadensis), also known as the wapiti, is one of the largest species within the deer family, Cervidae, and one of the largest terrestrial mammals in North America, as well as Central and East Asia. It is often confused with the larger Alces alces, which is called moose in North America, but called elk in British English, and related names in other European languages (German Elch, Swedish älg, French élan). The name "wapiti" is used in Europe for Cervus canadensis. It originates from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning 'white rump'.

Elk range in forest and forest-edge habitat, feeding on grasses, plants, leaves, and bark. Male elk have large antlers which they shed each year. Males also engage in ritualized mating behaviors during the rut, including posturing, antler wrestling (sparring), and bugling, a loud series of vocalizations that establishes dominance over other males and attracts females.

Although it is currently native to North America and eastern Asia, it had a much wider distribution in the past. Populations were present across Eurasia into Western Europe during the Late Pleistocene and survived into the early Holocene in southern Sweden and the Alps. The elk has adapted well to countries where it has been introduced, including Argentina and New Zealand. Its adaptability may in fact threaten endemic species and the ecosystems into which it has been introduced.

Elk are susceptible to a number of infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to livestock. Efforts to eliminate infectious diseases from elk populations, largely by vaccination, have had mixed success. Some cultures revere the elk as having spiritual significance. In parts of Asia, antlers and their velvet are used in traditional medicines. Elk are hunted as a game species. Their meat is leaner and higher in protein than beef or chicken. Elk were long believed to belong to a subspecies of the European red deer (Cervus elaphus), but evidence from many mitochondrial DNA genetic studies beginning in 1998 shows that the two are distinct species. Key morphological differences that distinguish C. canadensis from C. elaphus are the former's wider rump patch and paler-hued antlers.

Naming and etymology[edit]

By the 17th century, Alces alces (called "elk" in Europe) had long been extirpated from the British Isles, and the meaning of the word "elk" to English-speakers became rather vague, acquiring a meaning similar to "large deer".[3] English-speaking people arriving in North America during the European colonization of the Americas lacked familiarity with Alces alces on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, but familiar with the smaller red deer (Cervus elaphus) of the British Isles, thought that the larger North American C. canadensis resembled the even larger Alces alces, and thus gave to it the name "elk".

The name wapiti is from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning "white rump".[4] There is a subspecies of wapiti in Mongolia called the Altai wapiti (Cervus canadensis sibiricus), also known as the Altai maral.[5] The Asian subspecies are sometimes referred to as the maral, but this name applies primarily to the Caspian red deer (Cervus elaphus maral), a subspecies of red deer.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology of the word "elk" is "of obscure history".[6] In Classical Antiquity, the European Alces alces was known as Ancient Greek: ἄλκη, romanized: álkē and Latin: alces, words probably borrowed from a Germanic language or another language of northern Europe.[6] By the 8th century, during the Early Middle Ages, the moose was known as Old English: elch, elh, eolh, derived from the Proto-Germanic: *elho-, *elhon- and possibly connected with the Old Norse: elgr.[6] Later, the species became known in Middle English as elk, elcke, or elke, appearing in the Latinized form alke, with the spelling alce borrowed directly from Latin: alces.[6][7] Noting that elk "is not the normal phonetic representative" of the Old English elch, the Oxford English Dictionary derives elk from Middle High German: elch, itself from Old High German: elaho.[6][3]

The American Cervus canadensis was recognized as a relative of the red deer (Cervus elaphus), of Europe, and so Cervus canadensis was referred to as "red deer".[8]Richard Hakluyt, in his 1584 Discourse Concerning Western Planting, mentioned the continent's plentiful red deer (Early Modern English: greate store of ... redd dere).[8] Similarly, John Smith's 1616 A Description of New England referred to red deer.[8]Sir William Talbot's 1672 English translation of John Lederer's Latin Discoveries likewise called the species "Red Deer", but noted in parentheses that they were "for their unusual largeness improperly termed Elks by ignorant people".[8] Both Thomas Jefferson's 1785 Notes on the State of Virginia and David Bailie Warden's 1816 Statistical, Political, and Historical Account of the United States used "red deer" to refer to Cervus canadensis.[8]


Members of the genusCervus (and hence early relatives or possible ancestors of the elk) first appear in the fossil record 25 million years ago, during the Oligocene in Eurasia, but do not appear in the North American fossil record until the early Miocene.[9] The extinct Irish elk (Megaloceros) was not a member of the genus Cervus but rather the largest member of the wider deer family (Cervidae) known from the fossil record.[10]

Until recently, red deer and elk were considered to be one species, Cervus elaphus,[5][11] with over a dozen subspecies. But mitochondrial DNA studies conducted in 2004 on hundreds of samples from red deer and elk subspecies and other species of the Cervus deer family, strongly indicate that elk, or wapiti, should be a distinct species, namely Cervus canadensis.[12] DNA evidence validates that elk are more closely related to Thorold's deer and even sika deer than they are to the red deer.[12]

Elk and red deer produce fertile offspring in captivity, and the two species have freely inter-bred in New Zealand's Fiordland National Park. The cross-bred animals have resulted in the disappearance of virtually all pure elk blood from the area.[13] Key morphological differences that distinguish C. canadensis from C. elaphus are the former's wider rump patch and paler-hued antlers.[14]


There are numerous subspecies of elk described, with six from North America and four from Asia, although some taxonomists consider them different ecotypes or races of the same species (adapted to local environments through minor changes in appearance and behavior). Populations vary in antler shape and size, body size, coloration and mating behavior. DNA investigations of the Eurasian subspecies revealed that phenotypic variation in antlers, mane and rump patch development are based on "climatic-related lifestyle factors".[15] Of the six subspecies of elk known to have inhabited North America in historical times, four remain, including the Roosevelt's (C. canadensis roosevelti), tule (C. canadensis nannodes), Manitoban (C. canadensis manitobensis) and Rocky Mountain elk (C. canadensis nelsoni).[16] The eastern elk (C. canadensis canadensis) and Merriam's elk (C. canadensis merriami) subspecies have been extinct for at least a century.[17][18]

Four subspecies described in Asia include the Altai wapiti (C. canadensis sibiricus) and the Tianshan wapiti (C. canadensis songaricus). Two distinct subspecies found in China, Mongolia, the Korean Peninsula[19] and Siberia are the Manchurian wapiti (C. canadensis xanthopygus) and the Alashan wapitis (C. canadensis alashanicus). The Manchurian wapiti is darker and more reddish in coloration than the other populations. The Alashan wapiti of north central China is the smallest of all subspecies, has the lightest coloration and is the least studied.[13]

Recent DNA studies suggest that there are no more than three or four subspecies of elk. All American forms, aside from possibly the tule and Roosevelt's elk, seem to belong to one subspecies (Cervus canadensis canadensis). Even the Siberian elk (Cervus canadensis sibiricus) are more or less identical to the American forms and therefore may belong to this subspecies, too. However, the Manchurian wapiti (Cervus canadensis xanthopygus) is clearly distinct from the Siberian forms, but not distinguishable from the Alashan wapiti. The Chinese forms the Sichuan deer, Kansu red deer, and Tibetan red deer belong also to the wapitis and were not distinguishable from each other by mitochondrial DNA studies.[12] These Chinese subspecies are sometimes treated as a distinct species, namely the Central Asian red deer (Cervus wallichi), which also includes the Kashmir stag.[20]

  • Illustration of eastern elk

  • Illustration of Altai wapiti

  • Illustration of Manchurian wapiti

  • Illustration of Kashmir stag


Photograph of a herd of elk
A herd of Roosevelt's elk

Elk have thick bodies with slender legs and short tails. They have a shoulder height of 0.75–1.5 m (2 ft 6 in–4 ft 11 in) with a nose-to-tail length of 1.6–2.7 m (5 ft 3 in–8 ft 10 in). Males are larger and weigh 178–497 kg (392–1,096 lb) while females weigh 171–292 kg (377–644 lb).[21] The largest of the subspecies is the Roosevelt elk (C. c. roosevelti), found west of the Cascade Range in the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington, and in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Roosevelt elk have been reintroduced into Alaska, where the largest males are estimated to weigh up to 600 kg (1,300 lb).[22] More typically, male Roosevelt elk weigh around 318 to 499 kg (701 to 1,100 lb), while females weigh 261 to 283 kg (575 to 624 lb).[23] Male tule elk weigh 204–318 kg (450–701 lb) while females weigh 170–191 kg (375–421 lb).[24] The whole weights of adult male Manitoban elk range from 288 to 478 kilograms (635 to 1,054 lb). Females have a mean weight of 275 kilograms (606 lb).[25]

Antlers are made of bone, which can grow at a rate of 2.5 centimeters (0.98 in) per day. While actively growing, a soft layer of highly vascularized skin known as velvet covers and protects them. This is shed in the summer when the antlers have fully developed.[26] Bull elk typically have around six tines on each antler. The Siberian and North American elk carry the largest antlers while the Altai wapiti has the smallest.[13] Roosevelt bull antlers can weigh 18 kg (40 lb).[26] The formation and retention of antlers are testosterone-driven.[27] In late winter and early spring, the testosterone level drops, which causes the antlers to shed.[28]

Photograph of a Rocky Mountain elk

During the fall, elk grow a thicker coat of hair, which helps to insulate them during the winter.[29] Both male and female North American elk grow thin neck manes; females of other subspecies may not.[30]: 37  By early summer, the heavy winter coat has been shed. Elk are known to rub against trees and other objects to help remove hair from their bodies. All elk have small and clearly defined rump patches with short tails. They have different coloration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with gray or lighter coloration prevalent in the winter and a more reddish, darker coat in the summer. Subspecies living in arid climates tend to have lighter colored coats than do those living in forests.[29] Most have lighter yellow-brown to orange-brown coats in contrast to dark brown hair on the head, neck, and legs during the summer. Forest-adapted Manchurian and Alashan wapitis have red or reddish-brown coats with less contrast between the body coat and the rest of the body during the summer months. Calves are born spotted, as is common with many deer species, and lose them by the end of summer. Adult Manchurian wapiti may retain a few orange spots on the back of their summer coats until they are older. This characteristic has also been observed in the forest-adapted European red deer.[13]

Behavior and ecology[edit]

Elk are among the most gregarious deer species.[30]: 52  During the summer group size can reach 400 individuals.[21] For most of the year, adult males and females are segregated into different herds. Female herds are larger while bulls form small groups and may even travel alone. Young bulls may associate with older bulls or female groups. Male and female herds come together during the mating season, which may begin in late August.[30]: 75, 82  During this time, bulls enter the rut and compete for females to include in their harems.[30]: 92  Males try to intimidate rivals by vocalizing and displaying with their antlers.[30]: 109  If neither bull backs down, they engage in antler wrestling, sometimes sustaining serious injuries.[31] Bulls also dig holes in the ground called wallows, in which they urinate and roll their bodies.[32][31] A male elk's urethra points upward so that urine is sprayed almost at a right angle to the penis.[33] The urine soaks into their hair and gives them a distinct smell which attracts cows.[31]

Dominant bulls follow groups of cows during the rut from August into early winter. A bull will defend his harem of 20 cows or more from competing bulls and predators.[34] A bull interacts with cows in his harem in two ways: herding and courtship. When a female wanders too far away from the harem's range, the male will rush ahead of her, block her path and aggressively rush her back to the harem. Herding behavior is accompanied a stretched out and lowered neck and the antlers laid back. A bull may get violent and hit the cow with his antlers. During courtship, the bull is more peaceful and approaches her with his head and antlers raised. The male signals his intention to test the female for sexual receptivity by flicking his tongue. If not ready, a cow will lower her head and weave from side to side while opening and closing her mouth. The bull will stop in response in order not to scare her.[30]: 100–101  Otherwise, the bull will copiously lick the female and then mount her.[30]: 115 

Younger, less dominant bulls, known as "spike bulls" because their antlers have not yet forked, will harass unguarded cows. These bulls are impatient and will not perform any courtship rituals and will continue to pursue a female even when she signals him to stop. As such, they are less reproductively successful, and a cow may stay close to the big bull to avoid harassment. Dominant bulls are intolerant of spike bulls and will chase them away from their harems.[30]: 100–105 

Bulls have a loud, high-pitched, whistle-like vocalization known as bugling, which advertise the male's fitness over great distances. Unusual for a vocalization produced by a large animal, buglings can reach a frequency of 4000 Hz. This is achieved by blowing air from the glottis through the nasal cavities. Elk can produce deeper pitched (150 Hz) sounds using the larynx.[35]

Reproduction and lifecycle[edit]

Photograph of a female elk nursing her calf
A female nursing her calf

Female elk have a short estrus cycle of only a day or two, and matings usually involve a dozen or more attempts. By the autumn of their second year, females can produce one and, very rarely, two offspring. Reproduction is most common when cows weigh at least 200 kilograms (440 lb).[36] The gestation period is 240 to 262 days and the offspring weigh between 15 and 16 kilograms (33 and 35 lb). When the females are near to giving birth, they tend to isolate themselves from the main herd, and will remain isolated until the calf is large enough to escape predators.[31]

Calves are born spotted, as is common with many deer species, and they lose their spots by the end of summer. After two weeks, calves are able to join the herd, and are fully weaned at two months of age.[21] Elk calves are as large as an adult white-tailed deer by the time they are six months old.[37] Elk will leave their natal (birth) ranges before they are three years old. Males disperse more often than females, as adult cows are more tolerant of female offspring from previous years.[38] Elk live 20 years or more in captivity but average 10 to 13 years in the wild. In some subspecies that suffer less predation, they may live an average of 15 years in the wild.[39]


Photograph of an elk herd in winter
Elk wintering in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, after migrating there during the fall

As is true for many species of deer, especially those in mountainous regions, elk migrate into areas of higher altitude in the spring, following the retreating snows, and the opposite direction in the fall. Hunting pressure impacts migration and movement.[40] During the winter, they favor wooded areas for the greater availability of food to eat. Elk do not appear to benefit from thermal cover.[41] The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem elk herds comprise as many as 40,000 individuals.[42] During the spring and fall, they take part in the longest elk migration in the continental U.S., traveling as much as 168 mi (270 km) between summer and winter ranges.[43] The Teton herd consists of between 9,000 and 13,000 elk and they spend winters on the National Elk Refuge, having migrated south from the southern portions of Yellowstone National Park and west from the Shoshone and Bridger–Teton National Forests.[43]


Photograph of a number of elk pellets

Elk are ruminants and therefore have four-chambered stomachs. Unlike white-tailed deer and moose, which are chiefly browsers, elk are similar to cattle in that they are primarily grazers. But like other deer, they also browse.[44][45] Elk have a tendency to do most of their feeding in the mornings and evenings, seeking sheltered areas in between feedings to digest. Their diets vary somewhat depending on the season, with native grasses being a year-round supplement, tree bark being consumed in winter, and forbs and tree sprouts during the summer. Elk consume an average of 9.1 kilograms (20 lb) of vegetation daily.[46] Particularly fond of aspen sprouts which rise in the spring, elk have had some impact on aspen groves which have been declining in some regions where elk exist.[47] Range and wildlife managers conduct surveys of elk pellet groups to monitor populations and resource use.[48][49]

Predators and defensive tactics[edit]

Aerial photograph a bull elk in winter being pursued by four wolves
Single bull elk in winter are vulnerable to predation by wolves.

Predators of elk include wolves, coyotes, brown and black bears, cougars, and Siberian tigers.[50][51]Coyote packs mostly prey on elk calves, though they can sometimes take a winter- or disease-weakened adult.[52] In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone National Park, bears are the most significant predators of calves[53] while healthy bulls have never been recorded to be killed by bears and such encounters can be fatal for bears.[54] The killing of cows in their prime is more likely to affect population growth than the killing of bulls or calves.[55]

Elk may avoid predation by switching from grazing to browsing. Grazing puts an elk in the compromising situation of being in an open area with its head down, leaving it unable to see what is going on in the surrounding area.[56] Living in groups also lessens the risk of an individual falling to predation. Large bull elk are less vulnerable and can afford to wander alone, while cows stay in larger groups for protection for their calves.[30]: 75  Bulls are more vulnerable to predation by wolves in late winter, after they have been weakened by months of chasing females and fighting.[55] Males that have recently lost their antlers are more likely to be preyed upon.[57]

Parasites and disease[edit]

At least 53 species of protist and animal parasites have been identified in elk.[58] Most of these parasites seldom lead to significant mortality among wild or captive elk. Parelaphostrongylus tenuis (brainworm or meningeal worm) is a parasitic nematode known to affect the spinal cord and brain tissue of elk and other species, leading to death.[59] The definitive host is the white-tailed deer, in which it normally has no ill effects. Snails and slugs, the intermediate hosts, can be inadvertently consumed by elk during grazing.[60] The liver flukeFascioloides magna and the nematode Dictyocaulus viviparus are also commonly found parasites that can be fatal to elk.[61] Since infection by either of these parasites can be lethal to some commercial livestock species, their presence in elk herds is of some concern.

A bull elk in spring, shedding its winter coat and with its antlers covered in velvet

Chronic wasting disease, transmitted by a misfolded protein known as a prion, affects the brain tissue in elk, and has been detected throughout their range in North America. First documented in the late 1960s in mule deer, the disease has affected elk on game farms and in the wild in a number of regions. Elk that have contracted the disease begin to show weight loss, changes in behavior, increased watering needs, excessive salivation and urinating and difficulty swallowing, and at an advanced stage, the disease leads to death. No risks to humans have been documented, nor has the disease been demonstrated to pose a threat to domesticated cattle.[62] In 2002, South Korea banned the importation of elk antler velvet due to concerns about chronic wasting disease.[63]

The Gram-negativebacterial disease brucellosis occasionally affects elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the only place in the U.S. where the disease is still known to exist. In domesticated cattle, brucellosis causes infertility, abortions, and reduced milk production. It is transmitted to humans as undulant fever, producing influenza-like symptoms that may last for years. Though bison are more likely to transmit the disease to other animals, elk inadvertently transmitted brucellosis to horses in Wyoming and cattle in Idaho. Researchers are attempting to eradicate the disease through vaccinations and herd-management measures, which are expected to be successful.[64] Nevertheless, research has been ongoing since 2002, and a successful vaccine has yet to be developed as of 2016[update].[65]

A recent necropsy study of captive elk in Pennsylvania attributed the cause of death in 33 of 65 cases to either gastrointestinal parasites (21 cases, primarily Eimeria sp. and Ostertagia sp.) or bacterial infections (12 cases, mostly pneumonia).[66]

Elk hoof disease was first noticed in the state of Washington in the late 1990s in the Cowlitz River basin, with sporadic reports of deformed hooves. Since then, the disease has spread rapidly with increased sightings throughout southwest Washington and into Oregon. The disease is characterised by deformed, broken, or missing hooves and leads to severe lameness in elk. The primary cause is not known, but it is associated with treponeme bacteria, which are known to cause digital dermatitis in commercial livestock. The mode of transmission is also not known, but it appears to be highly contagious among elk. Studies are being undertaken by government departments to determine how to halt or eliminate the disease.[67][68][69]


Bull elk buglingduring the rut

The elk ranges from central Asia though to Siberia and east Asia and in North America. They can be found in open deciduous woodlands, boreal forests, upland moors, mountainous areas and grasslands.[1] The habitat of Siberian elk in Asia is similar to that of the Rocky Mountain subspecies in North America. During the Late Pleistocene their range was much more extensive, being distributed across Eurasia, with remains being found as far west as France. These populations are most closely related to modern Asian populations of the elk. Their range collapsed at the start of the Holocene, possibly because they were specialized to cold periglacial tundra-steppe habitat. When this environment was replaced largely by closed forest the red deer might have outcompeted the elk. Relictual populations survived into the early Holocene in southern Sweden and the Alps, where the environment remained favorable.[70]


Photograph of three bull elk on a range
Bull elk on a captive range in Nebraska. These elk, originally from Rocky Mountain herds, exhibit modified behavior due to having been held in captivity, under less selective pressure

The Rocky Mountain elk subspecies was reintroduced by hunter-conservation organizations in the Appalachian region of the eastern U.S., where the now extinct eastern elk once lived.[71] Since the late 1990s, elk were reintroduced and recolonized in the states of Wisconsin,[72]Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia.[73] In 2017, a male elk, likely from the Smoky Mountains population, was sighted in South Carolina for the first time in nearly 300 years.[74] Since 2015, elk have also been reintroduced in a number of other states, including Pennsylvania,[75][76]Missouri,[77] and introduced to the islands of Etolin and Afognak in Alaska.[78] Elk were reintroduced in Michigan in 1918 after going extinct in 1875.[79] Reintroduction of the elk into Ontario began in the early 20th century and is ongoing with limited success.[80] As of 2014, population figures for all North American subspecies are around one million. Prior to the European colonization of North America, there were an estimated 10 million elk on the continent.[81]

Elk and red deer were introduced to Argentina in the early 20th century.[82] There they are now considered an invasive species, encroaching on Argentinian ecosystems where they compete for food with the indigenous Chilean huemul and other herbivores.[83] This negative impact on native animal species has led the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) to identify the elk as one of the world's 100 worst invaders.[84]

The introduction of deer to New Zealand began in the middle of the 19th century, and current populations are primarily European red deer, with only 15 percent being elk.[85] There is significant hybridization of elk with red deer.[86] These deer have had an adverse impact on forest regeneration of some plant species, as they consume more palatable species, which are replaced with those that are less favored by the elk. The long-term impact will be an alteration of the types of plants and trees found, and in other animal and plant species dependent upon them.[87] As in Chile and Argentina, the IUCN has declared that red deer and elk populations in New Zealand are an invasive species.[84]

Cultural references[edit]

Photograph of a Kiowa couple showing elk teeth on the woman's dress
A Kiowacouple. The woman on the right is wearing an elk tooth dress.

Elk have played an important role in the cultural history of a number of peoples. Neolithicpetroglyphs from Asia depict antler-less female elk, which have been interpreted as symbolizing life and sustenance. They were also frequently overlaid with boats and associated with rivers, suggesting they also represented paths to the underworld.[88] Petroglyphs of elk were carved into cliffs by the Anasazi of the southwestern U.S. hundreds of years ago.[89] The elk was of particular importance to the Lakota and played a spiritual role in their society. The male elk was admired for its ability to attract mates, and Lakota men will play a courting flute imitating a bugling elk to attract women. Men used elks' antlers as love charms and wore clothes decorated with elk images.[90]

The Rocky Mountain elk is the official state animal for Utah.[91] An image of an elk and a moose appear on the state seal and flag of Michigan.[92] The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (B.P.O.E.) chose the elk as its namesake because a number of its attributes seemed appropriate for cultivation by members of the fraternity. A representation of the majestic head of the male, with its spreading antlers, was adopted as the first badge of the Order; it is still the most conspicuous element of its copyrighted fraternal emblem.[93] A prized possession of many members of the B.P.O.E. are jewel encrusted, gold mounted elk teeth—which are actually ivory.[94]

Commercial uses[edit]

Photograph of elk meat patties
Approximately 0.45 kg (1 lb) of ground elk meat formed into patties; they have relatively low fat content

Although breakdown figures for each game species are not available in the 2006 National Survey from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunting of wild elk is most likely the primary economic impact.[95]

While elk are not generally harvested for meat production on a large scale, some restaurants offer the meat as a specialty item and it is also available in some grocery stores. The meat has a taste somewhere between beef and venison and is higher in protein and lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, pork, and chicken.[96] Elk meat is a good source of iron, phosphorus and zinc.[97]

A male elk can produce 10 to 11 kilograms (22 to 24 lb) of antler velvet annually and on ranches in the United States, Canada and New Zealand, it is collected and sold to markets in East Asia, where it is used in medicine. Some cultures consider velvet to be an aphrodisiac.[63] However, consuming velvet from elk in North America may be risky since velvet from animals infected with chronic wasting disease may contain prions that could result in a human getting variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.[98]

Antlers are also used in artwork, furniture and other novelty items. All Asian subspecies, along with other deer, have been raised for their antlers in central and eastern Asia by Han Chinese, Turkic peoples, Tungusic peoples, Mongolians, and Koreans. Elk farms are relatively common in North America and New Zealand.[85] Native Americans have used elk hides for tepee covering, clothing and footwear.[99][100]

Since 1967, the Boy Scouts of America have assisted employees at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming by collecting the antlers which are shed each winter. They are then auctioned, with 80% of the proceeds returned to the refuge. In 2010, 2,520 kilograms (5,560 lb) of antlers were auctioned, bringing in over $46,000.[101]


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Sours: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elk
Where do Elk go in the winter? (Wildlife Migration)

Elk (Cervus elaphus)

Species Code: CEEL

Highslide JS

Breeding Range Map
The green area shows the predicted habitats for breeding only.
© NatureMapping Program

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Predicted breeding range

= Core Habitat
= Marginal Habitat

 elk photo

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Breeding Range Map
The green area shows the predicted habitats for breeding only. The habitats were identified using 1991 satellite imagery, other datasets and experts throughout the state, as part of the Washington Gap Analysis Project.

NatureMapping observations map   Map with GAP records
Observations | Historic GAP points


Elk are widespread in Washington and found in a variety of habitats such as shrub steppe, bunchgrass, shrub plant communities, open meadows near open or closed canopy forests. They get into sub-alpine areas in summer. Also found in remote eastern Washington canyons with grass or shrubs. Their presence is related to human density and declines with road density and hunting pressure.

habitat 952 picture

Core areas include all zones within its range although they are less common north of Interstate 90 on the west side of the Cascades. Winter and summer use differs. All habitats were good except development, agriculture and bare ground. Elk are large, mobile animals that wander long distances into areas where they are unlikely to have a breeding population. An example would be their periodic appearance in the northeast Cascades.

Sours: http://naturemappingfoundation.org/natmap/maps/wa/mammals/WA_elk.html

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