North American Elk (Wapiti)

Bugling Bull Elk

2010 Missouri Elk Restoration Plan

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photo of an elk
Cervus canadensis
Cervidae (deer) in the order Artiodactyla

A very large member of the deer family with a thick neck. Brown or tan above with darker underparts. Rump patch and tail yellowish brown. Males have dark brown mane on throat and large, many-tined antlers.

Length: 8 ft. 2 in. (bulls); 6 ft. 7 in. (cows); weight: 600-1,089 pounds (bulls); 450-650 pounds (cows).
Habitat and conservation: 
In summer, high, open pastures and open woodlands; in winter, lower, wooded slopes, often dense woods. Before the coming of Europeans, elk, or wapiti, probably ranged over the entire region of what is now Missouri. By 1830, elk were becoming scarce; they eventually were limited to just the northwestern and southeastern parts of the state. By 1865, they were extirpated. Today, elk are being reintroduced, in large part, because of their popularity for hunting and ecotourism.
Like white-tailed deer, elk both graze (grasses and wildflowers) and browse (shrubs and the lower limbs of small trees). Like cattle, elk are ruminants and have four-chambered stomachs.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Currently being restored in public lands in Carter, Shannon and Reynolds counties.
A Species of Conservation Concern in Missouri. Due to habitat loss and overhunting by settlers--usually for skins, leaving the meat behind--elk have been absent from our state since about 1865. Current reintroduction efforts center around their novelty and their importance as a game animal. Elk hunting has long been popular and common in the western states.
Human connections: 
Elk farming makes elk meat available in our groceries, and elk hunting is popular. Elk were historically important for food and hides. For centuries, elk have held special symbolic and spiritual significance for Native American tribes.
Ecosystem connections: 
Historically, elk were preyed upon by bears, by mountain lion and gray wolf (both now extirpated) and by red wolf (critically endangered worldwide). Coyote and bobcat took newborn calves. Many Native Missouri tribes, notably the Osage, hunted elk. Today, modern hunters keep elk populations in check.
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