Elk (Cervus canadensis)
Elk are large, deer-like herbivores. Male elk have large, usually six-pointed antlers that are shed each year. The hair on their neck is long and shaggy. Their fur is light brown and darker on their head, neck, legs and belly. Elk have a large, white rump patch.
Elk are social animals. The herd is customarily in charge of a female elk (cow) who leads them to water and to feeding grounds. The females also stand guard over the herd at night, during afternoon resting times, and when feeding. On sensing danger, the sentinel or any other cow gives warning by a sudden,
loud "bark" that instantly alerts the entire herd. Although elk have excellent senses of sight and hearing, they mostly depend on their sense of smell to detect danger. They have three kinds of calls. One is the bark that they use to warn others of danger. Another call is the bugling of the bull during breeding season. The third call is the bleating of young elk calves and yearlings. An elk's antlers are usually shed in late winter and throughout the spring. New antlers begin to grow again when their scars have healed. Some elks' antlers can weigh over 30-40 pounds! Elk are both grazers and browsers. In the summer throughout their range in the West, their diet consists of shrubs, trees, and grasses such as willow, maple, and rye grass. In Texas, they eat desert plants like agaves, as well as various species of grasses. Bugling marks the beginning of the breeding season. It usually starts in late summer and lasts through November. At the beginning of the breeding season, adult bulls are very fat, but by the end, they are emaciated due to their almost non-stop efforts to keep younger bulls away from their females. Baby elk are born in May and June, usually with just one per female. Calves are reddish-brown and spotted with white. At first, calves are helpless and must remain hidden. But by the time they are about two weeks old, they are able to follow their mothers and rejoin the main herd. They can exist solely on plants by the time they are two or three months old.
Elk once inhabited the plains region of the western United States in winter, migrating to more open, forested areas in summer. Now, because of human land use practices, they have been forced into year-long habitation in mountains.
Historical evidence indicates that elk may have been present over much of Texas. By the late 1800’s, records indicate that elk were only present in the Guadalupe Mountains of far west Texas. Currently, free ranging elk exist over a large portion of west Texas and on high fence ranches throughout the state.