(Cervus canadensis)

Conservation Status


No Image Available

  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N5 - Secure

S3 - Vulnerable


not listed






Total length: 5¾ to 8¾

Mass: 147 lb to 110 lb






Similar Species


Open brushlands and grasslands with nearby woodlands or forested areas








20 years or more


Life Cycle








Distribution Map



6, 15, 29, 30, 72, 76.

The map at left does not include historical township records in Becker, Clay, Clearwater, Kanabec, Polk, Rice, Sibley, and Stearns Counties.

The observation in Rice County is an elk shot in Whitewater Wildlife Management Area on 11/8/2020. The identification was confirmed by a Minnesota DNR Conservation Officer. It was probably an escapee form a nearby game farm.





  Class Mammalia (mammals)  
  Subclass Theria  
  Infraclass Eutheria (placentals)  
  Magnorder Boreoeutheria  
  Superorder Laurasiatheria  
  Order Artiodactyla (whales, hippos, ruminants, pigs, camels etc.)  
  Suborder Ruminantia (ruminants)  
  Infraorder Pecora  


Cervidae (deer)  


Cervinae (Old World deer)  


Cervus (red deer, deer, wapiti)  

Elk was formerly named Cervus elaphus canadensis, one of numerous subspecies of red deer (Cervus elaphus). A mitochondrial study published in 2004 indicated that it should be recognized as a separate species.


Subordinate Taxa


Under the new classification, there is disagreement about the number of subspecies. Fourteen subspecies of C. canadensis have been described. Recent DNA studies suggest that there are only three or four subspecies, that all North American elk belong to the subspecies C. c. canadensis, and that regional differences are local adaptations and should be considered ecotypes or races.

Minnesota lies within the historical range of Eastern elk (C. c. canadensis) and Manitoban elk (C. c. manitobensis). The former is now extinct and the latter is extirpated due to hunting and the gradual disappearance of suitable habitat. Rocky Mountain elk (C. c. nelsoni) have been widely transplanted in the United States. Today, most elk in North America, including Minnesota’s two populations, are Rocky Mountain elk.


Northern and American group

Altai wapiti (Cervus canadensis sibiricus)

Eastern elk (Cervus canadensis canadensis) extinct

Manitoban elk (Cervus canadensis manitobensis)

Merriam’s elk (Cervus canadensis merriami) extinct

Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni)

Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti)

Tian Shan wapiti (Cervus canadensis songaricus)

Tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes)


Eastern group

Alashan wapiti (Cervus canadensis alashanicus)

Manchurian wapiti (Cervus canadensis xanthopygus)


Southern group (Central Asian red deer)

Kansu red deer (Cervus canadensis kansuensis)

Kashmir stag (Cervus canadensis hanglu)

MacNeill’s deer (Cervus canadensis macneilli)

Tibetan red deer (Cervus canadensis wallichii)




Cervus elaphus canadensis


Common Names



red deer











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  Cervus elaphus (American Elk)
Allen Chartier
  Cervus elaphus (American Elk)  
  Rocky Mountain Elk
Dan Dzurisin
  Rocky Mountain Elk  
Diane Higdem Photography



Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Elk vs. Photographer | Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Vince M. Camiolo

Published on Nov 12, 2013

Update: I've been in contact with the photographer in the above video and we would both like to issue a statement regarding the news of the National Park Service's decision to put the elk down.

My statement:
I am deeply saddened by the fate of the elk. It has certainly pulled a black cloud over this whirlwind "viral video" experience.

I spoke to the reporter who broke the story and she assured me the decision was based on a pattern of aggressive behavior that began prior to the incident documented in this video. The behavior was the result of visitors feeding the elk and conditioning them to seek food from humans. This video only serves as an example of the elk's dangerous behavior, not an impetus to it.

Again, it brings me great sadness to learn of this beautiful animal's demise and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding it.

I'm looking into a destination for proceeds from this video to help the NPS educate visitors on the dangers and consequences of feeding wildlife.

I also want to be clear that James, the photographer, was not complicit in a behavior that led to the elk's demise, but rather was made an example of the result of such behaviors. The elk approached him from behind, likely looking for food as he was conditioned to do.

Statement from James (the photographer):
I love and respect animals and that's why I photograph them and don't hunt them. I am deeply hurt by the loss of such a beautiful creature that in its own way bonded with me. I looked forward to watching him grow to a mature bull as the years passed.

I'm truly heartbroken to know he is gone.

Original video description:
While photographing elk at sunrise in the Cataloochee Valley of Great Smoky Mountains National Park I turned around to see what appeared to be just a curious young bull sniffing a photographer's camera. I snapped a few frames of the apparent harmless encounter.

But the elk became more interested in making trouble than simply the scent of a camera. He started physically harassing the photographer, escallating to full on head-butts.

I quickly switched the camera to video and let it roll (much of the time wondering when I should seriously consider intervening).

Most people who see this ask why the photographer seems to just take the abuse. I asked him in an email what was going through his head. This is his response:

"My first thoughts were "wow, he's getting pretty damn close here." But I've been up close before without incident. I hoped being still and passive would see him pass on. When he lowered his antlers to me, I wanted to keep my vitals protected and my head down. I felt that standing up would provoke him more and leave me more vulnerable to goring. I think that while protecting myself with my head down, having my head down was a signal that I was rutting with him. I was concerned at first, but when he started rearing back and lunging at me later on, I got scared and pissed off. That's when I wagged my finger at him to cut that shit out. I was relieved to see the Ranger coming.

So I guess at some point if the Ranger hadn't of pulled up, I would have had to disengage the best I could. I've joked with my friends that at least he took me for a buck and not a cow!"

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  Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni) Bugle

Published on Sep 26, 2014

The elk of Rocky Mountain National Park are in full rut, which means a lot of dinosaur-like calls echoing across the subsantial elk habitat here. The bugle you hear is used to intimidate other males, or to initiate a sparring. It also seems to attract females.

A few days ago, there was a showdown between a few smaller males and this massive bull elk, who's harem numbered in the dozens. He managed to chase off the younger males and keep his harem largely intact, although he may have lost a few cows in the fray.

  Answer the Call -- Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Uploaded on Apr 19, 2010

Elk and other wildlife combine with quotations from legendary conservationists.

  Elk In America (Trailer)
Janson Media

Published on Nov 28, 2012


This international award-winning, wildlife documentary captures the life cycle of elk amidst the unforgettable images of the Rocky Mountains. Filmed over three years by renowned, wildlife cinematographer, Gary W. Griffen, the superb images and original soundtrack will immerse you in the elk's natural environment.

Narrated by actor Stacy Keach, Elk in America provides the viewer with a better understanding of when elk came to North America, their mystical relationship with Native Americans and their drastic decline when settlers spread westward.

  Listen: These Elk Sound Terrifying, Like Ringwraiths | National Geographic
National Geographic

Published on Apr 21, 2016

Scientists have solved one of nature's greatest mysteries: How do big bull elks produce an eerie shriek that sounds like the Ringwraiths from The Lord of the Rings?
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Read more about how these large North American deer produce their bloodcurdling screams: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160420-elk-animals-science-sounds-wildlife/
Click here to read more about elk: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/elk/
Quiet Alaska Suburb Moose Battle: http://on.natgeo.com/1T1TelR

Video courtesy Roland Frey
Audio courtesy Megan Wyman
Associate Producer: Jed Winer

Listen: These Elk Sound Terrifying, Like Ringwraiths | National Geographic

National Geographic




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