Elk of British Columbia
ALL ABOUT ELK
Elk are among the wild animals that seem to enjoy British Columbia’s mountainous forests. Elk, scientifically cervus elaphus, are the second largest member of the deer family and one of the largest mammals in North America. Female elk, called cows, usually weigh around 500 lbs. and stand around 4 and a-half feet tall. Male elk, called bulls, are bigger weighing an average of 700 lbs. and standing at least 5 feet tall. Male elk are especially impressive sightings as they often have antlers rising up to 4 feet in the air.
Antlers are unique to the bulls. Each year, bulls grow antlers that can be up to 4 feet long and 40 lbs. heavy. The antlers begin growing every spring and can grow as much as one-inch per day. By late summer, elk have a rack that many hunters would love to see mounted on their wall. The rack has several tines that, although popularly thought to indicate age, are actually irrelevant in terms identifying age or maturity. The elk use the antlers as a defense tool and weapon as they fight fellow dominant bulls away from their cowherd during the mating season. The formation of antlers is entirely testosterone-driven and so after the fall mating season, in winter, the antlers are shed due to a natural decrease in testosterone.
An elk bull’s harem can include up to 60 cows and commonly is counted at near two-dozen. An elk bull is very protective of its harem and as mating season approaches; a bull is likely to have to fight other bulls in order to maintain their harem. Once elk have mated, there is a 255 to 275 day gestation period before the calf is born. The calf will stay with the cow for about a year after it is born, leaving when the following year’s offspring is born. Elk live an average of 10 to 13 years and while they can reproduce at a very early age, only the most dominant bulls maintain a harem. These bulls are never younger than 4 and rarely older than 10. The bulls with the biggest harems are probably around 8-years-old.
Elk are nocturnal animals and find the majority of their food from grazing. While an elk bull’s appearance can seem threatening, these animals are known more as prey than predator. Elk are common targets of mountain lions, wolves and even bears. Elk have rarely been recognized as a threat to humans but as always, it is best to keep a respectful distance from any wild animal, for your sake and theirs.