Largest members of the deer family. Elk have a heavy body, humped shoulders, long legs and a short tail. They’re easily recognisable by a skin fold under their chin known as a dewlap or bell and by their large, overhanging nose or proboscis, giving rise to a keen sense of smell.
Females (cows) lack antlers, whereas males (bulls) have impressive palmate antlers that can stretch 2 metres across. They have two wide hooves on each foot, which splay, an advantage when walking on mud, snow and for swimming.
Elk are found in a range of woodland habitats in cooler climates. Preferable habitats are those that provide patchy mosaics of forest, swamps, lakes and wetlands.
Solitary and diurnal. Calves stay with their mother until they are around a year old. Rutting occurs from September to October, when bulls stop feeding entirely in order to compete for the mating rights to females. Cows select the bulls with the largest antlers and dewlap to mate with. Unique feeding strategy amongst deer.
Can dive and feed underwater on aquatic plants below the surface by sealing off their enlarged nostrils. Will not only wade and swim in lakes and rivers, but also a crucial strategy in order to cool down in the warmer months.
General threats to all global populations are habitat modification through forestry and agricultural activities. Hunting is also thought to be an additional pressure contributing to the localised extinction in some areas such as in the UK.
North American and Eurasian range. In Europe, its continuous range stretches from Norway and Sweden, across to Russia, the Baltic States and eventually China.
Herbivorous diet. Do not graze on grasses, but browse on the non- grass understory of forests, aquatic plants, and fruits as well as both deciduous and conifer trees.
Currently now extinct in the UK although a small population possibly survived in Scotland up until around 900AD.
We are lucky enough to house one very gorgeous female Elk by the name of Caramel and a new male called Juergen. Caramel was born at Whipsnade zoo, and came to Wildwood in 2013. She is very talkative, and regularly spends time chatting away to her keepers.
Did you know?
- Elk are known to eat up to 20kg of food per day; their full stomachs can weigh a whopping 65kg!
- Male Elks are called “bulls” and females are called “cows”.