The Elk is a large deer with short tail and a prominent buff-colored patch on its rump. Together with the Sambar Deer and the Moose, this animal is one of the largest deer species in the world. Males have extremely large antlers, which usually start growing in the spring, being shed in the winter, while females have no antlers. Also, some individuals may grow thin mane on their neck. By the winter, the coat of these animals becomes thicker, in order to protect them from the cold. The winter coat of the elk consists of long, waterproof hairs, which cover thick, wooly under fur of this animal. Newborn elk calves are spotted, losing their spots at the end of summer. The color of their fur depends on habitat and season of the year. Thus, during the summer, their fur is reddish hue while by the winter their coat becomes light grey in color.
The area of their distribution includes North America (the United States and Canada) and eastern Asia (Bhutan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Russian Federation). The major habitat of the elk is forest, forest edge, and alpine meadows. Elks found in mountainous areas, usually live at high elevations in summer and migrate down the slope by winter. However, this animal is very adaptable, due to which it’s also found in semi-deserts of North America.
They are social animals, gathering in summer herds that contain up to 400 elks. The elk herd is a matriarchal social unit, led by a single cow. Elks, found in mountainous areas, undergo seasonal migrations, living at higher elevations in summer and at lower elevations - in winter. They graze in the early morning and late evening. By day and in the middle of the night, elks are inactive, spending most of their time chewing their cud. Elks are excellent swimmers. Males are able to move through the forest silently and remain unheard. When agitated, the elk will flare its nostrils, lift the head, lay the ears back, and will even punch with its front hooves.
Elks are herbivores (folivores) and feed upon plants. Their usual diet is based on a wide variety of vegetation, including leaves and bark of trees. On the other hand, salt licks are a good supplement to their regular diet, helping elks grow healthy coats as well as produce nutritious milk.
Elks have polygynous mating system. From late September to early October, male elks lose the velvet on their antlers and start competing with each other for mating rights. However, dominant males, having large harems, usually limit access to the females of their harems. The period of gestation lasts about 240-262 days, yielding a single (rarely - two) baby. Before giving birth, the female isolates herself from the herd. And even after giving birth, she keeps living in isolation, protecting the baby, until the calf is able to escape predators independently. About 20 minutes after birth, the newborn baby is able to stand. By the age of 2 weeks, the young join the herd, being fully weaned after 2 months. Elks reach sexual maturity at 16 months old.
One of the serious threats is excessive hunting. These animals attract hunters for their meat as well as their fur, antlers, teeth, and hides. For this reason, hunting of this species is currently restricted, and the animals are farmed in some Western states.
According to IUCN, elks are abundant and widespread throughout their range. The total number of their population, including both those in the wild and on farms, is around 2 million individuals. The ICUN classifies the Fennec fox as "Least Concern" with its numbers are increasing.
Feeding upon plant species, elks greatly contribute to structuring plant communities. In addition, during particular periods of the year, elks become main prey species for brown bears and other large predators.