Elk, WAPITI, Cervus Elaphus

Elk were valued by the early settlers and Native Americans as a valuable food source, hides and fur for clothing, and antlers for utensils and truphys. Today elk are economically valuable for hunting and tourism they bring to the mountains of the west.

Elk were named by the early settlers, but some people prefer to call it by the Shawnee name wapiti (WAA-pi-tea) meaning “white rump.” The name "elk" is a bit confusing because in Europe, moose are called "elk." and the European "red deer" is the same as the north American elk, which muddies the watereven furthur. evidentilly the same nameing scheme that called for the american bison to be called a buffalo.

At the turn of the century, commercial game hunters, hired riflemen and subsistence hunters had left few elk in the west. In 1910, the U.S. Forest Service estimated that fewer than 1,000 elk remained in Colorado. A 1918 survey of Forest Service lands in Idaho showed only 610 elk remained. Where elk had been protected, these prolific animals rebounded quickly . They were pounded by hard winters in 1897, 1909, 1911 and 1917 all coinsiding with the loss of their traditional wintering grounds to cattle ranching. About 10,000 elk starved in Jackson Hole during the winter of 1897, a decade before Jackson Hole became the home of the National Elk Refuge.

Cow elk Yellowstone full moon
Cow elk grazes in Madison Junction Meadow under a full moon at sunset.

At the turn of the century efforts to "bring back the elk" were started in a partnership between government and Hunters. One of the most ambitious of game transplanting projects began in when starting in 1892 Yellowstone over several decades 5,200 of the park's elk were shipped to 36 states as well as to Canada and Argentinain a transplantation effort to restore elk to many of their native areas. That effort and many since have paid off. From a total elk population of 41,000 in 1907, elk on U.S. ranges have now come to number nearly a million.

Elk belong to a group of animals called ungulates, the Latin word for "hoof." All ungulates have hooves. Elk are second in size only to the moose in the deer family. At birth, an elk calf weighs about 35 pounds. At the start of its first winter, an elk may weigh five times as much as when it was born.The average weight of an adult male is 650 pounds, and some individuals attain weights of 1,100 pounds.  Cows and calves mew to each other. Adult elk often bark when they sense an intruder just outside their "immediate threat" zone.

bull elk crossing madison river
Bull elk crossing madison river

Elk being herd animals have eyes are on the sides of the skull, this enables them to see what is happening ahead of them, beside them, as well as what is going on behind them. This is the reason they used to put blinders on horses (a herd animal) so they could only see where they were goingwithout the destractions of what was beside them and behind them. An elk's big ears can capture faint sounds and other sounds of movement. Elk also have a keen sense of smell. Combine the sharp senses of a group of five, 10, or even 50 elk and it's easy to understand how they avoid predators.

Elk that live in mountainous country migrate to lower elevations as the winter snows drive them out otf the higher elevations. in the spring as the snow retreates the elk follow the snow line up the mountains because the higher elevations provide remoteness and less insects. Elk are social animals and during the summer they live in large herds. These herds are dominated by a single cow. In spring the bulls and cows separate and the females leave to calve, while bulls form their own separate herds for the untill fall.

Bugling bull elk, Yellowstone National Park
Bull elk bugles taking on all challengers

Elk being herbivores eat only plants. Their diet includes grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees.
being herd animals they must eat and watch for predatorseat and at the same time . An elk herd always has at least one animal looking up while the others are eating. Even so the animals that are feeding are always on the lookout for warning signs of predators.

The males have antlers that can span five feet and have six sharp points or "tines." per side upon maturity but a few have as many as 10. The width bredth and weight of an elks rack is determined by the abundance of food as well as age, bull elk shed their antlers in late winter. Testosterone is the hormone in the bull's body controlling the "cement" that holds the antlers to his skull. In winter a bull's testosterone level drops and so do his antlers. Increasing daylight later In spring, elevates the level of testosterone in the animal's blood, which triggers the growth of antlers. The antlers grow from the bony bumps on their skulls called pedicles. Antlers are cartilage that slowly mineralize into bone. A soft covering called velvet carries blood to the growing bone tissue and helps protect the them. Antlers are fragile until they completely mineralize and harden in time for rutting season.

cow elk and calf, Yellowstone National Park
Cow elk watches over new calf

September brings rutting season (mating season), bulls form harems of cows, which they defend with their seasonally aggressive nature, One bull may have a herd of fifteen to thirty cows, but some may have achieved a many as sixty. During the rutt, the bull elk engage in a fight for dominance, they bugle, they wallow in the mud holes they have cented with their urine, they urinate on plants that they toss onto their antlers. It is thought that this activity makes the bulls more fearsome to other bulls and more attractive to potential cows.

Bull elk make a sound called a "bugle," a true sound of the wilderness that starts as a bellow, changes to a loud whistle, and ends in a series of grunts. The bugleing serves to challenge to other bulls and to attract the cow elk. This timeless wilderness show can be seen in the meadows of Yellowstone and other places where there is no hunting pressure, where elk are hunted they are unaproachable and are often hiding in the trees. Elk don't make just one sound and what they communicate is still largely a mystery. The typical "Unh-ai-EEEE! yuh, yuh" has been called a challenge. But many bulls give voice when they have no intention of fighting. Some bugle a lot, others infrequently. Besides bugling, you'll hear chirps, grunts, gurgles and squeals.Bulls are only territorial during the mating season and are otherwise not aggressive toward other elk.

 

 

wolf chasing elk
elk chasing wolves
Elk is the main prey for the Wolves of Yellowstone
Animals of the Greater Yellowstone Region

Yellowstone's abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers. Yellowstone Park is home to the largest concentration of large and small mammals in the lower 48 states. Most of the animals that live in Yellowstone Park also inhabit regions of Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding states of Wyoming.

Wild animals, especially females with young, are unpredictable. Keep a safe distance from all wildlife. Each year a number of park visitors are injured by wildlife when approaching too closely. Approaching on foot within 100 yards (91 m) of bears or wolves or within 25 yards of other wildlife is prohibited. Please use roadside pullouts when viewing wildlife. Use binoculars or telephoto lenses for safe viewing and to avoid disturbing them. By being sensitive to its needs, you will see more of an animal's natural behavior and activity. If you cause an animal to move, you are too close! It is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.

Montana and Idaho.Habitat preferences and seasonal cycles of movement determine, in a general sense, where a particular animal may be at a particular time. Early morning and evening hours are when animals tend to be feeding and thus are more easily seen. But remember that the numbers and variety of animals you see are largely a matter of luck and coincidence. Check at visitor centers for detailed information.

Elk

 
bull Elk Black wolf

Bull elk watches black wolf in Yellowstone National Park

Elk were named by the early settlers, but some people prefer to call it by the Shawnee name wapiti (WAA-pi-tea) meaning "white rump." The name "elk" is a bit confusing because in Europe, moose are called "elk." and the European "red deer" is the same as the North American elk, which muddies the water even further. Evidently the same naming scheme that called for the American bison to be called a buffalo.

Elk were valued by the early settlers and Native Americans as a valuable food source, hides and fur for clothing, and antlers for utensils and trophies. Today elk are economically valuable for hunting and tourism they bring to the mountains of the west.

At the turn of the century, commercial game hunters, hired riflemen and subsistence hunters had killed off most of the elk in the west. In 1910, the U.S. Forest Service estimated that fewer than 1,000 elk remained in Colorado. A 1918 survey of Forest Service lands in Idaho showed only 610 elk remained. Places where elk had been protected, these prolific animals rebounded quickly. The winters of 1897, 1909, 1911 and 1917 all coinciding with the loss of their traditional wintering grounds to cattle ranching were also very tough on them. About 10,000 elk starved in Jackson Hole during the winter of 1897, a decade before Jackson Hole became the home of the National Elk Refuge.------------------------> More.....

 

Mule Deer
 
Trophy mule deer buck in snowstorm

Trophy buck mule deer on his winter range north of Jackson Hole Wyoming

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Mule deer can be found throughout the entire western United States, including the deserts of the American Southwest, Mule deer have large ears that move constantly and independently, as do mules, hence the name, "Mule Deer." This stocky deer has sturdy legs and is 4 to 6-1/2 feet in length and 3 to 3-1/2 feet high at the shoulder. Most Mule deer are brown or gray in color with a small white rump patch and a small, black-tipped tail. Mule deer their fawns have white spots at birth. Buck deer have antlers that start growth in spring and are shed around December, these antlers are high and branch forward and reach a spread up to 4 feet in width bucks are larger than does. The life span of a mule deer in the wild is 10 years, but mule deer have lived for up to 25 years in captivity.

Mule deer can thrive nearly anyplace; their habitats include woodland chaparral, Sonoran desert, semi-desert, shrub woodland, Great Plains grasslands, shrub land forest, sagebrush steppe, and boreal forest. Mule deer are remarkably adaptable, of at least sixty types of habitat west of the 100th meridian in the United States, all but two or three are or once were home to mule Deer.

Mountain mule deer seasonally migrate from the higher elevations of the sub-alpine forests they inhabit during summer to lower elevations of the mountain valleys and desert lowlands. Deer prefer rocky windswept buttes where it is easier for them to find food during the winter and that provide escape from predators as needed. ----------------------> More.......

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
 
Fighting Bighorn Sheep in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep make their homes in the highest parts of the mountains, where people find it difficult to go. The Grace and beauty of the Bighorn Sheep is a treasure to see if you are lucky enough to come across any. Their agility and grace in their steep and rocky home is a marvel to watch. Bighorns are considered to the most regal of all big game animals.

Native Americans and early settlers prized bighorn meat as the most enjoyable of All-American big-game menu choices. The Native Americans also used the horns to fashion ceremonial spoons and handles for their utensils. Horns have also been popular for many centuries as trophies for proud hunters.

The natural range of The Rocky Mountain Bighorn is from southern Canada to Colorado. During the summer they inhabit high elevation alpine meadows, grassy mountain slopes and foothill country, all near rugged, rocky cliffs and bluffs, allowing for quick escape from mountain lion, wolves or bears. In winter, Bighorn prefer south facing slopes from 3,000 to 6,000 foot elevation where annual snowfall is less and the sun and wind help clear off the slopes, because they cannot paw through deep snow to feed.-----------------> More........

 

Shiras Moose

A large bull moose in Grand Teton National Park.

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The Shiras moose also known as Wyoming moose, is the smallest of North America’s moose however it is still quite large. The Shiras moose are found in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, and in isolated areas of Utah, Colorado, and Washington.

The Shiras Bull Moose has smaller antlers than the Canada moose. Its body color is a rusty-brown to black with pale-brownish saddle and its legs are gray to white. The Shiras cow moose are slightly smaller than the male and does not have antlers. The bulls can grow to seven feet tall at the shoulder and can reach10 feet in length. Mature Shira's moose weigh 600 to 1400 pounds. The cow moose weigh between 500 and 1200 pounds. Bull Moose have antlers that can span five feet and weigh up to 50 pounds. It has smaller antlers than the Canada moose and the antlers are shed between November and January.

Breeding occurs from mid-September through mid-October. Cow moose attract males with both calls and the scent of estrous. Bulls as do all ungulates engage in fights with other bulls to win the right to breed the cow moose. Bull moose behavior during mating season includes scraping their antlers on trees, creating wallows to roll in, not eating causing large weight loss and they become more aggressive than usual and may charge at people and cars.--------------------------------------------> More.....

Grizzly Bears
 

Grizzily in northwest Yellowstone

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The grizzly bear population within the Yellowstone ecosystem is estimated to be approximately 280-610 (Eberhardt and Knight 1996) bears. The park does not have a current estimate of the black bear population; black bears are considered to be common in the park.

During the last 23 years (1980-2002), bears have injured 32 people within YNP. Grizzly bears and black bears were involved in 25 (78%) and 4 (13%) of the injuries, respectively. The species of bear could not be determined for 3 (9%) of the injuries. Three injuries occurred within a developed area, 2 occurred during a bear management handling accident, and 27 occurred in backcountry areas. Of the people injured while hiking, 57% were hiking off-trail. All (100%) backcountry hiking injuries involved people hiking in groups of less than 3 people. Bear Management Area restrictions reduce the chance of bear/human encounters and the risk of bear-caused human injury in areas with known seasonal concentrations of grizzly bears.-------------------------------> More

Wolves
 
Wolf chasing elk down for a kill

Wolf chasing elk down for a kill

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Perhaps more than any other member of the animal kingdom, wolves have historically played the villain's role. Misperceptions about wolves have abounded for centuries, historically, cultures worldwide, believed that wolves were so aggressive that they posed a risk to humans but, ironically, wolves are wary of humans because man has been killing wolves for millennia. Folklore is littered with proverbs and metaphors about this fearsome carnivore, from Peter and the Wolf in Russia to the wolf’s mysticism in Native American culture; wolves have long been a powerful symbol. Even today, wolves engender excitement merely at the possibility of an appearance on the wilderness stage.

The wolves of the Greater Yellowstone Region are members of the Canidae family, the Gray wolf (canis lupus), can grow to 4.5 to 6.5 feet in length. Adult males average about 100 pounds, but can weigh as much as 130 pounds. Females weigh slightly less. Gray wolves live up to 13 years old and can range in color from black, gray, or nearly white. A wolf pack is an extended family unit that includes a dominant male and female, called the alpha pair. In each pack, the alphas are usually the only ones to breed. Most packs produce only one litter of four to six pups per year. Pack sizes vary considerably, depending on the size of the wolf population in a particular area, whether they are feeding pups and the quantity of prey available. In the northern Rocky Mountains, packs average ten wolves, but the Druid pack in Yellowstone once had 37 members. The Druid pack later split forming several smaller packs. --------------------------> more

Black Bear - Ursus Americanus
 
black bear crossing creek

Black bear crossing creek in Yellowstone

The black bear (Ursus Americanus) ranges across forested Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia as well as much of the United States. A solitary animal most of the year, they pair up briefly during the mating season. Cubs remain with their mother for about a year, who protects which prevents them from being killed by the adult males. 

Black bears swim well and often climb trees to feed on buds and fruit. They have a keen sense of smell, acute hearing, but poor eyesight. They can be seen at any hour of the day, but are most active at night. When very young, the cubs cry when afraid and hum when contented. 

Black bears are omnivorous; their diet consists of about 75 percent vegetable matter, 15 percent carrion, and 10 percent insects and small mammals. Their love for honey is well known, and sweet, ripe corn in autumn also attracts them. 

They have few enemies, but the one they fear the most is the Grizzly. Whenever their territories overlap, the latter is given a wide berth.---------------------------> More 

Bison
 
American Bison standing on bluff west of Grand Teton Park's Kelly road. The Grand Teton Mountain Range is in the backgrouns

The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is the only place in the lower 48 states where an endemic population of wild bison has survived since prehistoric times. Perhaps no other animal symbolizes the American West like the American bison. In prehistoric times millions of these quintessential creatures of the plains roamed the North America from northern Canada, south into Mexico and from Atlantic to the pacific. No one knows how many bison were in America before Columbus arrived but the guesstimate is about sixty million. They were the largest community of wild animals that the world has ever known. For a good part of the 1800s bison were considered to be in limitless supply.

After the Civil War the push to settle the west was on, new army posts were established, coinciding with the westward push of the railroads. The army and railroads contracted with local men to supply buffalo meat to feed the troops and construction laborers.

Bison were hunted nearly to extinction in the late 1800’s--------------------------------------------> More

Pronghorn Antelope
 
Pronghorn antelope, yellowstone
Yellowstone region Pronghorn in Grand Teton National Park

When Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, the pronghorn population was reported to be in the thousands. However, the number of these animals declined as the Yellowstone area became settled. In addition, hunting continued in the park until 1883. By 1886, when the U.S. Cavalry arrived to administer the park, the pronghorn had been largely decimated. The Cavalry took measures to increase the number of these animals. Their tactics, controlling predators and providing supplemental feed, proved successful almost immediately.

The Pronghorn is a species of artiodactyl mammal native to interior western and central North America. Though not a true antelope, it is often known colloquially in North America as the Prong Buck, Pronghorn Antelope or simply Antelope, as it closely resembles the true antelopes of Africa and fills a similar ecological niche due to convergent evolution. The pronghorn is the ‘real' Great Plains large mammal. Although we often associate bison with rolling prairies, they are more adapted for living in woodland habitats than the American pronghorn. In fact, the pronghorn has never found subsistence outside the High Plains and sagebrush flats of the American West.------------------> More about Pronghorn

Mountain Goats
 
mountain goats
Mountain Goat nanny and kid browse and play on the snowy cliffs just north of Alpine Wyoming

The Mountain Goats of the Greater Yellowstone eco-system make a home on the vertical planes of the Rocky Mountains where they cling and move around on the impossibly steep slopes of this unforgiving and barren terrain, Mountain Goats can survive on scant food in incredibly hostile environs. Mountain goats fit perfectly into the category of "charismatic mega-fauna." Their beauty, grace, and athleticism, is a treat to watch and their cute faces are always a thrill to see. The kids are precocious, able to move on steep slopes within hours of birth, an awe-inspiring site in itself.

Although the Yellowstone Ecosystem has an abundance of Mountain Goat habitat, Goats are not endemic to the region. Between the 1940s and the 1960s, there were several hundred of the shaggy cliff dwelling creatures transplanted from western Montana to the Beartooth, Absaroka, Madison, Bridger, and Crazy mountains and the Snake River Range. Hundreds of them now inhabit the high country. Some of those animals are willing to leave their preferred high-elevation habitat to cross rivers, and valleys too colonize new places. There haven’t been any transplants in the Gallatin Range, for instance, but goats thrive there today. -----------------------> more

Mountain Lion - Cougar (Puma concolor)
 
Mountain Lion in Snow, Jackson Hole Wyoming
Mountain lion returning to kill outside of Jackson Hole Wyoming

The Mountain Lion cougar (Puma concolor), also puma, cougar, or panther, is a member of the Felidae family, native to the Americas. This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any wild land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. An adaptable species, the cougar is found in every major North American habitat.

The Mountain lions of Yellowstone region were significantly reduced by predator control measures during the early 1900s. It is reported that 121 lions were removed from the park between the years 1904 and 1925. Then, the remaining population was estimated to be 12 individuals. Mountain lions apparently existed at very low numbers between 1925 and 1940. They maintain a secretive profile in the Yellowstone region. Although the cougar population numbered in the hundreds during the early 1900s, controlled hunts between 1904 and 1925 decimated the population. Today, twenty to thirty-five mountain lions reportedly inhabit Yellowstone Park, but sightings are rare.

Shy and elusive, mountain lions live solitary lives and practice mutual avoidance. Males and females interact for breeding when females are about 2 1/2 years old. Giving birth throughout the year, females can have litters of up to four kittens, but usually only one or two survive. Born spotted, the kittens stay with their mothers for about 18 months, after which time they will leave in search of their own home range.---------------------------------------> More