Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)
Range of Cervus canadensis
The elk, or wapiti (Cervus canadensis), is one of the largest
species of deer in the world and one of the largest mam-
mals in North America and eastern Asia. In the deer fam-
ily (Cervidae), only the moose, Alces alces (called an "elk"
in Europe), is larger, and Cervus unicolor (the "Sambar"
deer) can rival the elk in size. Elk are almost identical to
Red Deer found in Europe, of which they were long be-
lieved to be a subspecies; however, mitochondrial DNA
evidence from 2004 strongly suggests they are a distinct
Elk range in forest and forest-edge habitat, feeding
on grasses, plants, leaves, and bark. Although native to
North America and eastern Asia, they have adapted well
to countries where they have been introduced, including
New Zealand and Argentina. Their high level of adaptab-
ility poses a threat to endemic species and ecosystems
where they have been introduced.
Male elk have large antlers which are shed each year.
Males engage in ritualized mating behaviors during the
rut, including posturing, antler wrestling, and bugling, a
loud series of screams which establishes dominance over
other males and attracts females. The bugle call is one of
the most distinctive calls in nature.
Elk are susceptible to a number of infectious dis-
eases, some of which can be transmitted to livestock. Ef-
forts to eliminate infectious diseases from elk popula-
tions, largely through vaccination, have had mixed
Some cultures revere the elk as a spiritual force. In
parts of Asia, antlers and their velvet are used in tradi-
tional medicines. Elk are hunted as a game species; the
meat is leaner and higher in protein than beef or chick-
Naming and etymology
Early European explorers in No