Himalayan Tahr Hunting New Zealand

Elk / Wapiti (Cervus canadensis)

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Suborder: Ruminantia
  • Family: Cervidae
  • Genus: Cervus
  • Species: C. canadensis

The South Pacific Elk,from the blood lines of the Rocky Mountain Elk, are some of the largest elk found anywhere in the world.

Elk in New Zealand are the Rocky Mountain Elk, and are raised commercially for venison and hunting. They were first introduced in the early 1900s, but did not fare well.

There are no free-range elk in New Zealand today.

Elk are also referred to as "wapiti", which is from the Native American word waapiti, or "white rump" used by the Shawnee. Elk are widely distributed across North America and Eastern Asia, and have been transplanted to other countries such as New Zealand and Argentina.

Elk Description

Elk range in color from their tan summer coat to their dark brown winter coat. Their buff colored rump patch always makes them easily distinguishable from the other deer species. They have a dark shaggy mane about their necks to their chests.

Only the males have antlers which start growing in the spring and are shed each year, usually at the end of winter. The largest antlers may be as much as 1.2 meters (4 ft) long and weigh 18 kilograms (40 lbs).

Antlers are made of bone which can grow at a rate of 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) a day and a soft covering known as velvet helps to protect newly forming antlers in the spring.During the fall, all elk grow a thicker coat of hair which helps to insulate them during the winter.

Both male and female Siberian and American Elk also grow thick neck manes at this time. Siberian and American Elk also grow the longest and thickest neck manes of all red deer species and subspecies.

Male Alashan and Manchurian wapiti also grow neck manes. However, females of these two subspecies resemble female red deer hinds and do not grow neck manes. All wapiti have large clearly defined rump patches with short tails. By the time summer begins, the heavy winter coat has been shed, and elk are known to rub against trees and other objects to help remove hair from their bodies.

Elk also have different coloration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with grey or lighter coloration prevalent in the winter and a more reddish and darker coat in the summer.

Siberian and American Elk have lighter yellowish-brown to orangish-brown coats in contrast to dark brown hair on the head, neck, and legs during the summer. Manchurian and Alashan Wapitis, during the summer months, have foxy-red and reddish-brown coats with less contrast between the body coat and the rest of the body (head, neck, legs, rump patch).

Elk Mating and Reproduction

Adult elk usually stay in single-sex groups for most of the year. During the mating ritual, called the rut, mature bulls compete for the attentions of the cows (female elk) and will then try to defend cows that they attract. Rival bulls (male elk) challenge opponents by bellowing and walking in parallel. This allows combatants to assess each other's antlers, body size and fighting prowess. If neither bull backs down a clash of antlers can occur, and bulls sometimes sustain serious injuries.

Dominant bulls follow groups of cows during the rut, from August into early winter. The bulls may have as many as 20 females to keep from other less attractive males.[11] Only mature bulls hold harems (groups of hinds) and breeding success peaks at about eight years of age. Bulls two to four years old rarely hold harems and spend most of the rut on the periphery of larger harems, as do bulls over 11 years old. Young and old bulls that do acquire a harem hold it later in the breeding season than those bulls in their prime. Harem holding bulls rarely feed and lose up to 20% of their body weight. Bulls that enter the rut in poor condition are less likely to make it through to the peak conception period.

Male elk have distinctive "bugling" which can be heard for miles, and is used to keep his harem of females together. Bugling is often associated with an adaptation to open environments such as parklands, meadows, and savannas where sound can resonate from afar. The females are initially attracted to those males that both bugle most often and have the loudest bugle call. Males also use the bugle call when competing with other males for females during the rut, and along with other forms of posturing and antler fights, is a method used by the males to establish dominance. Bugling is most common during the early dawn and late evening.

Elk mating patterns usually involve a dozen or more mating attempts before the first successful one. There may be several more matings before the bull will seek out another mate in his harem. Females in their second autumn can produce one and very rarely two offspring per year. The gestation period is 240 and 262 days and the offspring weigh between 15 and 16 kilograms (33 to 35 lbs). After two weeks, calves are able to join the herd and are fully weaned after two months.Female offspring outnumber male offspring more than two to one and all elk calves are born spotted, as is common with many deer species, and lose their spots by the end of summer. The offspring will remain with their mothers for almost one full year, leaving around the time that the next season offspring are produced.The gestation period is the same for all subspecies. Elk live up to over 20 years in captivity and average 10 to 13 years in the wild, though some subspecies that have less predation pressure average 15 years.

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