Utah State Mammal
Rocky Mountain Elk (common name)
Cervus canadensis nelsoni (scientific name)
One of the largest species of deer, the Rocky Mountain elk is a majestic alpine animal. Elk are very big game highly prized by sportsmen. The elk is an extremely powerful cultural symbol to Native American tribes of the western U.S. as well. Cave drawings of elk were carved into cliffs thousands of years ago by the Anasazi people in the American southwest. To the Lakota people, the elk symbolized longevity, and males were given an elk's tooth to promote their long life and sexual prowess. An Apache creation myth describes how a giant elk created the Rocky Mountains by tearing up the earth with its antlers. The Cree, Blackfeet, Ojibwa, and Pawnee tribes produce blankets and robes from elk hides. The state of Utah declared the elk the state mammal in 1971.
ALSO KNOWN AS
Light brown with a darker mane and a white rump. Male elk have an enormous rack of antlers that they shed each year.
Up to 15 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity. Average of 10 years in the wild.
Rocky, high altitude, alpine areas.
Range: The Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. and Canada. In East Asia, a genetically similar species ranges from China's Xinjiang Province in western China to the Korean Peninsula.
Conservation Status: Least Concern (LC)
During the mating season, males rut by sparring with their antlers to establish dominance over other males and making a loud series of "bugling" calls to attract females. The clashes between the males determine who gets to mate and older males with bigger antlers typically win these battles. After the rut, females form large herds of up to 50 individuals. These "gangs" of female elk protect the newborn calves by keeping them close for almost a year in these communal herds. Elk migrate to lower altitude areas in the fall before the winter snows and to higher altitudes in the spring as the snows retreat.
Top land speed recorded: 45 mph (72.4 kph)
Native grasses are eaten year-round. During the summer, flowers and tree sprouts are added to the diet and in the winter, elk will eat tree bark. Elk consume an average of 20 pounds (9.1 kg) of various foodstuffs daily.
Breeding interval: Once per year
Birthing period: Early summer
Average litter size: 1
Size at birth: 33 to 35 lbs (15–16 kg)
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Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press