Terrestrial Animals, Pacific Northwest
Video by Lynn Knutson
Roosevelt elk are the largest member of the ungulate family – even larger than the elk found on the mainland! Roosevelt elk inhabit Vancouver Island in great herds. We have transplanted 3 small herds of elk to BC’s mainland, as part of plans to create breeding herds there.
A telltale sign of the Roosevelt elk is the large white patch on its rump, and of course, the fact that no other member of the deer family on the Island is as big as they are!
Calves are born in May and June. The cow will usually leave the herd to give birth in isolation, and then return to the herd in about 4 weeks with her calf in tow. The rut begins in early fall with bulls bugling to make their presence known to the cows. Although a herd may have several bulls, only one will be the dominant male, and he will defend his harem against all challengers, even bulls within his own herd. When a young bull forces a challenge & loses, he is ousted from the herd.
Elks’ antlers are shed and grow back every year. New antlers are covered by a rich, green, velvety membrane that elks rub off on trees. During this process, they can look pretty awesome, with their velvet hanging in tatters as they lift their heads to bugle.
I was sitting by the Salmon River one foggy morning, having my coffee, when all of a sudden, across the river, a big bull came strutting out to the river bank, head held high, velvet swinging from his antlers. As he reached the water’s edge, about 20 meters from me, he raised his head and started to bugle. This went on for more than 20 minutes before he wandered back into the bush. I was spellbound, to say the least!
In their first year, bulls have one spike, in their second, they have 3 – 5 points and 3-year-old bulls have six points that they grow back annually.