Wapiti (Cervus canadensis)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family:    Cervidae
Size:    Height: Up to 5 feet (150 cm) at the shoulder
Weight: Up to 1,000 pounds (450 kg)
Diet: Grasses and plants, including dandelions, violets and clover
Distribution: North America
Young:  1 per year
Animal Predators:  Coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, wolverines, wolves and lynx
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Female: Cow   Young: Calf
Lifespan: 14 to 25 years in the wild



·       Wapitis are also known as elk.

·       The wapiti is considered by some authorities to be the same species as the red deer (C. elaphus) of Eurasia.

·       Wapiti means “white rump” in the Native Canadian Shawnee language.

·       The scientific name Cervus canadensis means Canadian deer (or stag) in Latin.

·       They were extirpated from New York by 1847, Pennsylvania by 1867, Ohio by 1838, and Indiana by 1830.



Wapitis are the second largest members of the deer family, after moose. They range in colour from grey to tawny, to reddish brown, with their head and neck slightly darker in colour. They have white rump patches around their tail. Antlers can grow up to and beyond four feet (1.2 m) in length. The antlers are grown each year during the spring and summer. They are initially encased in a velvet covering that gets rubbed off in late summer. 



More than half of the current population resides in British Columbia, primarily in the Kootenays and the Peace-Omineca region, and a scattering on Vancouver Island. One quarter of Canadian wapitis live in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, especially in Elk Island National Park, where they are protected. The remainder live in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They also live in several parks in the United States, including Yellowstone.


Feeding Habits

Elk graze on grasses and plants, including dandelions, violets and clover. Like cows, they chew their cud, which means regurgitating food recently eaten, then chewing it and swallowing it again. This extracts more nutrition from the food and helps digestion. 



Mating season begins in early September, when the males begin courting the females with their bugle calls. Males strive to attract as many females as possible and drive the other males away. Eight to nine months later in the spring, the cow gives birth, leaving the herd for a short period before the birth and returning with a spotted calf one to three weeks later. The mothers and calves stick together within a special mother/fawn herd and watch out for predators such as bobcats and wolverines, who are always on the lookout for a quick and easy meal. The calves are weaned within two months. Both males and females become sexually mature by 16 months, although the males often do not mate until much later due to competition from older males.



Wapitis are known as the most vocal and loudest mammals, and the bugle call of the male is a demonstration of his strength and energy, leading the most vigorous callers to have the most success with females. Antler size also proves for a female the virility of each male, and factors into whether she will mate with him. Wapitis are sociable animals that live in small herds averaging six to seven individuals. 



When settlers first arrived in Canada, wapitis numerous and widely distributed, ranging all across the country from southern Quebec, through Ontario and the prairies to British Columbia, including on Vancouver Island. Hunting extirpated wapitis from the eastern provinces, including southern Ontario and Quebec, by the mid-1800s. Herds of wapitis were forced off the open grasslands and into the forest, where they split into smaller herds. When the rate of settlement slowed down in the early 1900s, wapitis were reintroduced to some of their former range.