Saturday, December 27, 2008

Elk (Cervus canadensis)

This herd was located across the street from the visitor's center snuggled down in between a bunch of houses.

Welcome to the herd! Think we “advanced” primates are above such behavior? Try taking an intercontinental flight one of these days and you will change your tune. I can hear the cattle braying as the line winds around and around the tape at the security checkpoint. All I see are backsides and I shuffle ignominiously onto the plane. Ever been to a professional football game? Doesn’t that remind you of the annual rut in which thousands of Elk gather in Rocky Mountain National Park’s two large meadows and congregate around the largest and loudest Bull with the showiest physic. Herd indeed!

This herd was on the side of the road between Moraine Park and Horseshoe Meadows. It was about 16 degrees out and the Elk were all laying in the grass.

I confess that I am immune to the charms of the Elk. It is sheer ennui brought on by too much familiarity. Visit the Estes Park and you will see them…everywhere. They are on the golf course, huddled around the large bronze Elk statue at the edge of town, or wandering around the meadows of the park itself. In contrast, last summer I ran into a herd of Mountain Goats and practically had an epileptic fit. Isn’t it amazing that you can live in a place where such amazing animals are as common as the tourists who clog the roads to ogle them?

Many of the Elk had tags and radio collars.

(On the left: This young bull was watching us closely as we got too close to the gals.) I have another confession…whenever I see an Elk I also think of dinner. I like the taste of it and wish I could get some hunter to bag one for me. I don’t think I could ever get up the nerve to do it myself. I like my protein dressed and sauced on my plate. Hypocritical in the extreme I know but not an uncommon attitude. Since the days when we could hire out our husbandry, the human species has become sensitized to all the carnage.

Elk are Colorado’s largest species of deer. They can be seven to nine feet long and over four and half feet high. The antlers of the Bull Elk are impressive indeed. These antlers grow in the spring and can weigh up to 40 pounds. They can grow up to an inch a day, protected by velvet, a soft skin that is scraped off on trees by summer. By early winter, the antlers are shed. Interestingly, the number of points on the antlers has nothing to do with the age of animal.

Elk are vegetarian browsers. Their diet consists primarily of grass but in winter will augment this with the bark of trees. Much of the scaring on Aspen trees is from Elk.

The snow was softly falling. You can see the flakes in the photos.

Finally, experts are trying to get us to use the term Wapiti for Elk because in Europe the term Elk refers to what we would call a Moose. Somehow, I don’t think Wapiti is going to catch on. The herd may just have a mind of its own.

1 comment:

Tina said...

I always learn something new everytime I visit your blog. I have tasted elk but didn't get the wow experience you did..but you know I once tasted rattle snake and actually liked it!! Again these were nice pics and an interesting commentary to go along with it! Thanks!