Yellowstone National Park Wildlife

The elk, or cervus elaphus, has frequented the Yellowstone area for more than 900 years. The most abundant of Yellowstone's large mammals, elk can be seen in just about every section of the park, although it is known to prefer the grassy, open areas that provide easy forage for large herds.

Although the males often travel by themselves, calves and cows can be seen in large numbers in the Gardiner and Mammoth areas and Lamar Valley. Studies also show that over the years, elk have also made use of the burned trees and foliage that were left following the 1988 Yellowstone fire. Elk have been seen in the Madison-Firehole area, where low elevations and new growth offer year-round opportunities for food.

Herd populations vary in Yellowstone according to season; as many as 30,000 elk make their home in the park during the summer. During the winter, elk either move out of the park or take up residence in the lower elevations, away from the sub-zero temperatures of Yellowstone's mountainous terrain.

The second largest member of the deer family (moose are the largest), adult elk can range in weight from 500 to 700 lbs. The coat is usually a reddish brown color and is accented by a distinctive rear patch and dark brown mane. The male is distinguished by his large, majestic antlers, which are a sign of strength and status. Antlers are shed in March and regrow in the spring, just before the fall "rutt" when males lock horns in competition for eligible females.

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National Geographic Park Profiles: Yellowstone Country