A-z - Animals


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Elk, or red deer, is one of the largest terrestrial animals in North America, Central and East Asia, living in mountain meadows, forests and forest edges.

elk one

© AZ-Animals.com

Elk is the second largest wild herbivore or deer family after moose. The Roosevelt, Tule, Rocky Mountain, and Manitoban elk are four of the six North American subspecies still living in the wild, while the Eastern and Merriam Easter elk subspecies are extinct.

Elk is popular for game hunting, while its meat is a specialty of some restaurants and shops, and its antlers are used in novelty items and traditional East Asian medicine. Although some herds suffer from infectious diseases, the overall population is increasing and is listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List.

5 Unbelievable Facts!

  • Male horn calls are made by simultaneously growling and whistling, which can be seen by the movement of their lips and nostrils.
  • Elk consume an average of 9.1 kg (20 lb) of vegetation per day.
  • Adult males (bulls) can reach speeds of up to 40 mph.
  • The elk is the unofficial mascot of Estes Park in Colorado, as it is one of the most common wildlife found there.
  • Wapiti (waapiti) means "white buttocks" in Shawnee and Cree languages.

You can check out more incredible facts about elk here.

American Elk in front of the Rocky Mountains
American elk, male (with antlers) and female, in front of the Rocky Mountains

© Tom Reichner/Shutterstock.com

scientific name and origin

These animals are often confused with moose, not only because they look similar, but also because moose (scientific name Alces alces or Cervus alces ) are called "elk" in Eurasia. The scientific name of elk is Cervus canadensis and C. c. canadensis is the species type. There are 14 subspecies. Although both are members of the deer family, elk are in the Cervinae or Old World deer subfamily, while moose are in the Capriolinae (Odocoileinae) or New World deer subfamily.

The word "elk" has historically meant something like "big deer." People in English-speaking North America in the 17th century were familiar with the red deer (Cervus elaphus), a close relative of the elk, but not the moose, so they named Cervus canadensis "elk", also simply "red deer". Linguistically, the Romanized Ancient Greek word for the Latin Alces (moose) is álkē, known in Old English as elch, elh, and eolh in the Early Middle Ages in the 8th century. Then it was in Middle English or Latinized alke Becomes elk, elcke, or elke. The Asian subspecies of elk is sometimes called maral, although the term applies primarily to the Caspian red deer, subspecies red deer ( Cervus elaphus maral ).

Elk is related to an ancient species of red deer in Asia, where it is still called red deer. They crossed the Bering Strait to North America about 120,000 years ago, as did caribou and other animals. They reached as far as Colorado between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, and there may have been as many as 10 million elk in North America when Europeans began to settle.



  • C. canadensis roosevelti (Roosevelt elk)
  • C. canadensis nannodes (Tule elk)
  • C. canadensis manitobensis (Manitoba elk)
  • C. canadensis nelsoni (Rocky Mountain elk)
  • C. canadensis canadensis (Eastern elk; extinct for over a century)
  • C. canadensis merriami (Merriam's Easter elk; extinct for over a century)

East Asian elk (wapiti)

  • Cc sibiricus (Altai red deer)
  • Cc Songa deer (Tianshan red deer)
  • Cc xanthopygus (Manchurian red deer)
  • Cc Alxa deer (Alxa red deer)
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Central Asian Red Deer (Southern Group)

  • Cc macneilli (Sichuan deer)
  • Cc kansuensis (Gansu red deer)
  • Cc wallichii (Tibetan red deer)
  • Cc hanglu (Kashmir stag)

Recent DNA studies have shown that there are actually only three or four subspecies, and that the American elk and even the Siberian elk ( C. canadensis sibiricus ) appear to belong to one subspecies ( C. canadensis canadensis ). The Chinese subspecies are all regarded as a distinct species.

The large antlers of male elk are covered with a layer of velvet that sheds in summer.

©iStock.com/Ondrej Prosicky


The 14 subspecies are all considered varieties of the same species, with subtle differences in appearance and behavior known as climate-related lifestyle factors. They both have stocky bodies, short tails, small but well-defined rump patches, and slender legs. They are 0.75-1.5 m (2 ft 6 in-4 ft 11 in) tall at the withers and 1.6-2.7 m (5 ft 3 in-8 ft 10 in) in length from nose to tail. Males weigh 178-497 kg (392-1,096 lb), while females weigh 171-292 kg (377-644 lb).

The exception is the Roosevelt elk, the largest subspecies, where the largest males can weigh up to 600 kg (1,300 lb), but the average weight is 318-499 kg (701-1,100 lb), and females 261-283 kg (575-624 lb ). Thule elk also vary in weight, with males weighing 204-318 kg (450-701 lb) and females 170-191 kg (375-421 lb). All elk grow thick winter coats in the fall, but only male and female North American elk have thin neck manes.

All male animals have antlers made of bone, which grow 2.5 centimeters, or about an inch, per day. Antlers can be over 20 inches long! During growth, a layer of velvet covers them. After the antlers have finished developing, they shed their velvet coverings in the spring. Since testosterone drives antler formation, the antlers are shed when testosterone levels drop in late winter and early spring. Some antlers have multiple tines. North American and Siberian elk have the largest antlers, while Altai red deer have the smallest, with Roosevelt's antlers weighing 18 kg (40 lb).

Elk in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
Elk in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

©James Gabbert/Shutterstock.com


Males are called bulls and female elk are called cattle. These animals are among the most social of deer species, with groups of up to 400 head in summer. For most of the year, adult males and females isolate themselves in separate herds, with females in larger herds and males in small groups or alone. Young bulls live in cow herds or live with older, less aggressive bulls.

During mating season, bulls engage in estrous behavior and compete for females, which they include in a harem of 20 or more cows. They try to intimidate their opponents with horn and antler displays and continue with antler wrestling. They may also dig pits or holes in the ground to urinate and roll on their own, giving them a distinctive scent to attract cows. Bulls also protect their harem from other males and predators and chase them away when they leave the harem.

The bull's call is called a horn and can reach 4000 Hz. They do this by blowing through the nostrils through the opening between the vocal cords (glottis). They can also produce a deeper sound at 150 Hz through the larynx.

Elk rub against trees and other objects to shed their winter coats before early summer. Like several species of deer, they migrate to higher elevations in spring and retreat in fall, creating summer and winter ranges. They travel up to 169 miles (270 kilometers) during the longest migration in the continental United States

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American elk have recovered in Colorado thanks to the efforts of local communities, conservationists and hunters.

©Chase Dekker/Shutterstock.com


The native habitat of this animal is East Asia and North America, but it was introduced to Central Asia. Its range of prehistoric habitats was much wider, including Europe. This species lives in mountain meadows, forests and forest edges.

New Zealand has had elk since 1909, when President Theodore Roosevelt gifted 20 animals to be released in the South Island. Elk hunting is now a commercial sport, but is clearly classified as North American elk.

Also, elk were introduced to Argentina in the early 1900s, but they are now considered an invasive species, competing with native animals for food.


As ruminants, these animals have four-chambered stomachs. But while moose and white-tailed deer are primarily browsers, elk are primarily herbivores. They feed in the morning and evening and seek shelter for digestion. In winter, they travel to wooded areas in search of more food. Their diet is herbivorous, eating native grasses year round, bark in winter and shrubs, leaves and shoots in summer. They ate an average of 9.1 kg (20 lb) of plants per day.

A large bull elk standing in an open meadow
Elk have many predators among large mammals such as bears, but they are also hunted by humans and attacked by disease.

© Tony Campbell/Shutterstock.com

Predators and Threats

Typical predators of these animals are wolves, coyotes, brown bears, North American black bears, Asiatic black bears, pumas and Siberian tigers. Coyote packs, brown and black bears are the primary predators of elk calves, with brown and black bears being the top predators. Killing cows affects population growth more than killing bulls or calves. Bulls become weaker in late winter when they chase females and fight other males, or when they lose their antlers, and thus are more likely to be predated by wolves. However, elk can reduce predation by switching to grazing instead of grazing, with the main difference being head up from wooded areas to open areas with their heads down.

Other threats to these animals are several bacterial infections and parasites, some of which can be transmitted to livestock. The main host of the brain worm, or meningoworm ( Parelaphosstrongylus tenuis ), is white-tailed deer, which are not affected, but the worm is fatal to elk. Elk can also consume the same parasite through snails and slugs that serve as intermediate hosts.

Other deadly parasites are the liver fluke ( Fascioloides magna ) and the lungworm Dicyocaulus viviparus. Chronic wasting disease is spread by prions (pathogens) and affects their brain tissue. It can be transmitted by eating elk antler down, which causes variant CJD in humans.

A bacterial disease known in the United States as brucellosis exists only in Yellowstone. It can be transmitted to domesticated cattle, bison, and horses, causing infertility, spontaneous abortion, and decreased milk production. In humans, it causes high fever and flu-like symptoms that last for years. Gastrointestinal parasites include Eimeria spp. and Ostertagia sp. Another disease of concern is elk lameness, which is related to the Treponema bacterium and can cause deformed hooves that lead to extreme lameness.

For humans, elk are not only a hunting game species, but their antlers are often used in traditional Chinese medicine, and antlers are used as an aphrodisiac to increase happiness and testosterone in both men and women. This meat is available in some restaurants and grocery stores. It's higher in protein, lower in fat and cholesterol, and leaner than chicken, pork, and beef, while also being a good source of zinc, phosphorus, and iron.

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Antlers are also used in novelty items such as art and furniture, and Asians bred elk for their antlers. There are many elk farms in North America and New Zealand. Native Americans hunted elk and used their hides for tent coverings, clothing, and footwear.

Eastern Elk
Cows usually give birth to one calf at a time.

© John James Audubon / Public Domain – License

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Bulls and cows mate with each other during the mating season, which begins in late August and ends in early winter. Bulls make a dozen or more mating attempts during a short estrus that lasts a day or two for cows. Cows usually give birth to one, and occasionally two offspring, known as calves. Cows breed most frequently when they weigh at least 200 kg (440 lb).

The gestation period is 240-262 days and the calf weighs between 15-16 kg at birth. They are born with spots that disappear by late summer. Cows isolate themselves before giving birth until the calf can escape predators. Calves can join the herd after two weeks and are fully weaned after two months. Before the age of three, elk leave their birth range. Their lifespan is 10-13 years, sometimes 15 years in the wild and 20 or more years in captivity.


The elk population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is approximately 40,000 individuals. There are 9,000-13,000 elk in the Teton herd, which migrate south from southern Yellowstone National Park and west from the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton National Forests to winter in the National Elk Refuge. Cervus canadensis is increasing in numbers and is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

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There are several important differences between elk and reindeer. First, elk are larger. Second, the two mainly live in different habitats, with reindeer surviving in more northerly climates. Finally, while reindeer have long been domesticated, elk have not.

Its taste is somewhere between venison and beef.

Native grasses, weeds, shrubs, bark and branches.

Mountain meadows, forests and forest edges.

no. Although they look similar and are both members of the deer family (cervidae), they belong to different subfamilies.

Elk are dangerous in large part because the bull's antlers can impale their targets. They are also heavy. Cows are dangerous during calving season, when they are unpredictable and erratic, jostling and trampling animals they perceive as threats.

Elk are herbivores. However, they can also be opportunistic carnivores, which would make them omnivores.

The most notable difference is their size. Elk is much larger in size and pure mass than common red deer. Elk are generally larger, although there are some red deer subspecies that come close (such as Central Asian red deer). Apart from size, elk and red deer share no common range: elk are found in North America, while red deer are found in Europe, North Africa and parts of the Middle East. Both species have been introduced to different habitats around the world.

The biggest difference between sambar and elk is their morphology and range. Elk is a large member of the deer family, with a tan body, white rump, light-colored hindquarters, fluffy mane in autumn, and a small and short tail, but the fur of sambar is amber or yellowish brown, and the black tail has a few Inch long on a light colored underside with a somewhat sparse mane. Elk are found throughout North America, parts of Asia and parts of southeastern Russia, but sambar live in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.