Cervus elaphus

Range: At one time elk ranged eastward on to the Great Plains. Today, they are found in Mountainous regions of southern Canada and western U. S.

Habitat: Semi-open forests, spending summers in the mountains and winters in the valleys.

Conservation status: Least concern. In the early 1900s elk populations were severely over-hunted; fewer than 1,000 animals were left in Colorado. Through careful management and restoration of the species, the current elk population is considered healthy in most areas, although there is concern in some areas of the state where chronic wasting disease may be a problem. In Colorado, wildlife habitat is being lost at a rate of several thousand acres each year. This is probably the most serious threat to these animals.

Elk

  • • Diet: grasses, leaves, twigs, evergreen and deciduous bark, and foliage.
    • Vertical migration: As snow covers the mountains, they migrate to lower elevations; return to higher elevations in the spring and summer. However, if food, shelter, water, and space are available, they may remain year round in the same area.
    • Can run 28 miles an hour and sprint up to 45 miles an hour.
    • Senses: An elk’s eyes are adapted to detect movement, even the slightest shifting of grass as a predator approaches. Their ears can twist forward and back to capture faint rustlings and other sounds of movement. They also have a superb sense of smell.
    • Teeth: Like other members of the deer family, elk possess teeth adapted for plant eating. There are lower , but no upper, incisors; two canines (sometimes called buglers) in the upper jaw; molars, used for grinding, line the upper and lower jaw. Age can be estimated by the amount of wear their teeth show. For a more exact determination of age, the annual growth rings can be counted under a microscope.
    • Antlers: Antlers are fast-growing bone that is shed each year. They are composed of calcium, phosphorous, and up to 50% water. They can grow up to one inch a day. Antlers are nourished by blood vessels lining the velvet.
    • Mating: With shortening days of autumn, the necks of the bulls become swollen and the rut or breeding season occurs. The male “bugles” to attract cows and to show dominance over potential male competitors. In addition, they spray urine over themselves, wallow, thrash the ground with their antlers, and dig. During this time they spar with other males, as they gather a harem of 15 to 20 females. Fighting is usually a show of strength and not a battle to the death. However animals do sometimes get hurt.
    • Calves are precocial (fully furred with eyes open). Most are born in May or June.

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