Tuesday, January 22, 2013

With Regard to Elk

Where I am until the end of the month has become a happy feasting ground for elk. After seeing herds of twenty and more at a time up close and in real life, after a few amazing photo-ops, and after realizing that they’re about the size of a real S.U.V., I decided to consult some research sources and add my own observations, first hand. So, no matter what the photos look like, here are a few:

1. Their butts are not bald but very, very furry – in fact, a lovely shade of taupe fluff.
 Sources suggest that it's evolutionary evidence that boy elks (who have really bad vision) need a great deal of help finding those sexy girl elks. The taupe butts must be elk language for, “it’s here, stupid!”

2. There’s a big mane of black fuzzy fur around their necks, more on the boys than the girls.
 It’s similar to cashmere found on Cashmere goats and better at keeping the elk warm than an L.L.Bean polar fleece scarf.

3. We've had herds of elk down in the residential 'hoods surrounding Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey.Wolf populations in the Idaho Sawtooth Mountain Range have increased. This year, they’ve made their way south from Stanley, Idaho – higher elevations, towards Ketchum. The pack, referred to as the Phantom Hill wolves, has increased its numbers. It’s become obvious that all these seemingly unrelated events are very much part of a single chain. Elk, in response to increased wolf populations, arrived on local golf courses, in neighborhood gardens, and along the roads. What an amazing local wildlife
ecosystem to observe first hand!

So when elk traveled to the lower regions, mountain lions paid a visit to feast on elk. After filling up on elk steaks, elk burgers, and maybe a few chops, the lions retreated fairly satiated. But they’re not the neatest eaters and failed to clean up after themselves. No worries, however! Wolves arrived and tidied up a bit after the mountain lions. It’s a nice feast for wolves.

My conclusions:
1. Glad to have two gigantic Rhodesian Ridgebacks, a.k.a. African lion dogs. Big bad lions beware!
2. Coming upon a male elk and his harem feasting on the vestiges of my garden, it was less than a
second before the male lifted his fully racked head in response to the click of my camera.
3. When a male elk lifts his antler-adorned head to look in my direction, retreating backwards into
my car or house is definitely a prudent idea!
4. A grown elk really is about the size of a Dodge Durango or Jeep Cherokee!

Elk Basics:
North American Elk, or Cervus elaphus, are split by some biologists into six subspecies:
• Rocky Mountain (Rocky Mountain West, now transplanted to other locations) – largest antlers of
all subspecies
• Roosevelt's (Coastal Pacific Northwest)
– largest in body size of all subspecies, but not antler size
• Tule (Central California) – smallest body size of all subspecies
• Manitoban (northern Great Plains)
• Merriam's (Southwest and Mexico) - Extinct
Eastern (east of the Mississippi) – Extinct

Antlers - The interesting stuff!
• Only male elk have antlers
• Bulls shed and grow a new set of antlers every year
• New antlers are covered in fuzzy skin called velvet
• Antlers harden by late summer and the velvet peels away
• By September, antlers are solid bone
• A set of antlers on a mature bull can weigh up to 40 pounds

Body Postures:
• When alarmed, elk raise their heads high, open eyes wide, move stiffly rotating their ears to listen.
• If a harem cow wanders, the bull stretches his neck low, tips his nose, tilts antlers back to circle her.

• Elk threaten each other by curling back their upper lip, grinding their teeth and hissing.

• Agitated elk hold their heads high, flatten ears back and flare nostrils, sometimes punch with their
front hooves

And the amazing thing is that elk talk. They’re known to be among the noisiest ungulates,
communicating danger loudly and identifying each other by sound. Their favorite times to
talk to one another seems to be sometime around 2:00-3:00 a.m. lately!


  1. Very cool pictures and some great facts! Well Done!

    1. Well thank you! I've taken so many photos of this guy and his ever increasing harem that I've been accused to becoming obsessed. But, once you see them up close, it's easy to become very enamored with these creatures!

  2. Thank you! The herd has grown to 26 in number, but STILL only 1 male" an amazing site but that aside, he must be a very busy guy.

  3. I have been around Elk a lot here in Idaho .. but would never raise a gun to one .. and the huge antlers have to travel through the limbs and brush. They throw their heads back and crash through.

    Saw a buck lower his head and clean out a mountain lion once .. can only imagine what an Elk could do. And for humans .. big neck small wicked black horns on buffalo .. stay away. Our town had one neurologist and he raised buffalo and his wife was an R.N. He tried to give a big sick bull a butt shot and the bull rattled the chute so hard he fell in. Mr. Bull stuck a horn into his thy and tossed him over a six foot fence .. streaming blood. His wife staunched the bleed with one hand and called in an ambulance with the other and gave the blood type and requested four bags .. just barely saved him .. no choppers at that time.

    Many young male Elk, Deer and even studs, bulls, dogs .. don't get things right the first breeding year. With the wolf nightmare recently .. the old got killed .. leaving just the young .. articles written on how bad that situation was.


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