ELK, WAPITI (Cervus elaphus):
Herds of these magnificent creatures thrive in the Columbia Valley luring lovers of wildlife, photographers and hunters from all over the globe.
In the winter the herds move from their safer higher grazing areas, to these mountain valleys for easier, less snow covered, browsing. In the early mornings I sometimes see herds of some twenty elk crossing the West Side Road on their way back to higher levels after their nocturnal browsing down by the Columbia River. Elk being primarily nocturnal are most active at dusk and dawn.
Elk are recognized and admired for their beautiful antler racks, which play a major role in the “survival of the fittest”. The males grow new antlers in the summer of every year and shed them in the fall. A yearling bull elk usually has only one pair of single spikes. By two years of age he may already display four or five points, and by four, a magnificent rack of six points. A bull who carries a seven point rack is called a “Royal”, and he possessing a rare eight point is titled a “Monarch”.
The rutting season lasts from late August to November, and it is at this time that we hear the bull elk “bugling”, challenging other bulls to a “duel for dominance” over the herd of females and calves. When the bulls meet they rush at each other clashing and sometimes interlocking antlers. Such fights sometimes lead to death when antler stabs are severely deep, and should antler racks become permanently interlocked both bulls may die.
Elk are a noisy bunch. Males bugle and both bulls and cows whistle, and although a cow’s whistle is not as loud, these whistles carry over long distances. Everyone snorts and grunts. Females neigh to their calves and calves squeal. If there is danger, adults give a sharp barking snort.
Their main predator is the mountain lion with bears ranking second. Elk are strong swimmers and fast silent runners in the woods. Lacking canine teeth in the upper jaw, elk eat grasses and vegetation.
“Wapiti” (Cervus elaphus): “Wapiti” comes from the Shawnee word for ‘white or pale deer’, referring to the Rocky Mountain subspecies which live in this area. “Cervus” is derived from “Family Cervidae” meaning ‘deer and their kin’, and “elaphus” is Greek also meaning ‘deer’
We residents of the East Kootenays, in this southeastern interior of British Columbia, are especially fortunate to have these magnificent wild creatures in our area.