Roosevelt Elk

Roosevelt Elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis) as seen in our Oregon Coast exhibit.

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that may be seen along the Oregon Coast.

Roosevelt Elk (sometimes referred to as Olympic Elk) are the largest of the four North American subspecies. Bulls can stand as high as 10 feet (3 m) and weigh between 700 and 1,100 lbs (317 to 499 kg). Cows will usually not weigh more than 625 lbs (283 kg). Both genders have similar coloring, which is darker than other elk species. The neck is dark brown or black with a tan body and a pale rump patch. They will shed their coats twice a year and may appear lighter and more reddish in the summer. Mature males have large antlers with a distinctive three-point tip. 

Elk are matriarchal, meaning that the herds are generally led by females with the males living separately except during breeding periods. Therefore, an elk herd is generally composed of cows, calves and adolescents which can be either male or female. When the rutting season begins, usually in late-August, males will assemble harems of up to sixty cows. Calves are usually born the following Spring. 

Elk are primarily nocturnal animals and only become active after dusk. During the days, they usually sleep in depressions they dig in the ground with their hooves or antlers. These depressions are known as “wallows.” The area around the wallows will be saturated by elk urine, which has a very strong musky odor and is the animal’s primary tool for marking territory. Elk produce a variety of sounds to communicate with each other. Females will mew to their calves or to sound an alarm. Bull elk are much louder, producing both deep grunts and piercing trumpet-like calls heard mostly during mating season. 

All elk are herbivores which subsist on ferns, shrubs, lichens, grasses and similar browse plants. Cougars and humans are their main predators today. Historically, Gray Wolves also fed on this animal but have been hunted to extinction in most of Oregon. Elk are often considered a nuisance species due to their tendency to damage trees, crops and ornamental plants common in populated areas. 

Habitat and Range

Roosevelt Elk can be found in meadows, woodlands and mountainous areas of both the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascades. In the coastal mountains, the abundance of food and cover, combined with milder winters, mean the elk can be seen year-round as they rarely migrate like other populations. In fact, coastal elk spend most of their lives in the same area with the same herd unless they are disturbed by people or predators. 

Conservation Status

Vulnerable. Fragmentation of the elk’s habitat by logging and urban development have isolated and reduced many populations. Although they are not considered threatened in Oregon, careful forest management is essential to maintaining healthy populations. Elk numbers are monitored by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife which also controls the hunting of this species.

Photo credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Game

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