(Ron Wilson photo)

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Ron Wilson spotted some elk huddled in the trees near Shoreacres on Saturday.

Read more: EK elk population drops 50 per cent in one decade

~ More about Ecology, Conservation and Management of Elk from the BC Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks ~

Elk have been part of the North American environment since the ice age.

These large, social, vocal animals left British Columbia completely during the last glacial advance but repopulated both the wet coast and dry interior after the ice melted.

Early explorers in eastern North America named this animal “Elk,” even though Europeans used the same term (spelled elch) for Moose.

To avoid confusion, some people have suggested giving the North American Elk the Shawnee Indian name, wapiti, but today most people continue to use the term Elk to refer to the North American forms of the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus).

Evolution and appearance

The majestic North American Elk, or wapiti, belongs to the same species as the European Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) with

which it can interbreed. However, the four living subspecies in North America, two of which occur in British Columbia, have been geographically isolated from the Eurasian races for at least 15,000 years and have distinctive characteristics.

An ancestor similar to the Red Deer probably arrived in North America from Europe via the Bering land bridge during the

second-to-last (Illinoian) glaciation, when sea levels were lower than they are now.

Fossil remains show that during the last interglacial period, Elk were widespread in North America, including Alaska. At the height of the last (Wisconsin) glacial advance, they became extinct in Alaska and were confined to areas south of the ice sheet in the United States.

As the last great glaciers receded 15,000 to 10,000 years ago, Elk spread northward into newly available habitats in southern Canada.

When Europeans first arrived, North America was home to six subspecies or races of Elk.

Two of those, the Elk of eastern North America and the Merriam Elk of the southwest United States, are now extinct. The

remaining four are the Manitoba Elk of the great plains (C. e. manitobensis), the Rocky Mountain Elk of the Rockies and adjacent ranges (C. e. nelsoni), the Roosevelt Elk of the Pacific northwest coast (C. e. roosevelti) and the Tule Elk of California (C. e. nannodes).

Following the last glaciation, Roosevelt Elk moved north into the Fraser valley and onto Vancouver Island, and the Rocky Mountain Elk spread as far as the Liard River area.

Elk are the largest members of the deer family (Cervidae), except for the Moose. Their main characteristics are a brownish coat with a dark mane and a white rump patch, large forked antlers on the bulls, and large rounded upper canine teeth (Elk tusks) in both sexes.

They are the only North American deer, other than Caribou, that commonly form large social groups.

British Columbia’s two subspecies of Elk, Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain, look quite similar and are best distinguished on the basis of distribution.

To read more of this report click here: Elk in British Columbia


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(Ron Wilson photo)

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