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Animal Information

American Elk Big Sky Country

American Elk

Cervus elaphus

Biome: Big Sky Country

Classification: Mammals

Biography: Elk are among the most vocal members of the deer family. Cows bark alarm signals, calves bleat and squeal, and bulls bugle. Bugling marks the beginning of the fall rutting, or breeding season, and advertises the bull's fitness to cows and rival bulls. During the rut, cows form small groups or harems that are controlled by a dominant bull. For the remainder of the year, cows, yearlings and calves form herds of 25 or more animals, while bulls form smaller bachelor herds. Living in a herd provides protection, for at least one elk will always have its head up, listening and watching for predators, including bears, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes. The animals were named elk by early settlers, after the European moose, or "elch." American elk are also called "wapiti," a Native American word referring to their characteristic light-colored rump.

Once found throughout North America, large populations of elk are now found only in the western parts of the United States and Canada. Elk living near the Rocky Mountains will often migrate to mountain meadows for the summer, and return to the lower foothills during winter. In the early 1900's, a trap and transfer program reestablished elk in Pennsylvania. The growing herd, now numbering over 400 elk, lives in the north-central counties.

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