Elk

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From: Source:Byrd, 1841

Not far from our quarters one of the men picked up a pair of elk's horns, riot very large, and discovered the track of the elk that had shed them. It was rare to find any tokens of those animals so far to the south, because they keep commonly to the northward of thirty-seven degrees, as the buffaloes, for the most part, confine themselves to the southward of that latitude. The elk is full as big as a horse, and of the deer kind. The stags only have horns, and those exceedingly large and spreading. Their colour is something lighter than that of the red deer, and their flesh tougher. Their swiftest speed is a large trot, and in that motion they turn their horns back upon their necks, and cock their noses aloft in the air. Nature has taught them this attitude to save their antlers from being entangled in the thickets, which they always retire to. They are very shy, and have the sense of smelling so exquisite that they wind a man at a great distance. For this reason they are' seldom seen but when the air is moist, in which case their smell is not so nice. They commonly herd together, and the Indians say, if one of the drove happen by some wound to be disabled from making his escape, the rest will forsake their fears to defend their friend, which they will do with great obstinacy, till they are killed upon the Spot. Though, otherwise, they are so alarmed at the sight of a man, that to avoid him they will sometimes throw themselves down very high precipices into the river.


From:Source:Cory, 1912:69-74

In the early part of the last century Elk or Wapiti were common as far east as Virginia and New York, but the march of civilization drove them further and further west with constantly decreasing numbers. Audubon states that there were still a few left in the mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania as late as 1835, and they were known to exist in western Virginia in 1847....

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Elk are gregarious animals, being found in large herds, especially in winter. In summer the herds are much smaller, the animals being scattered in wandering bands over a much larger territory. They prefer a forested country, and in a mountainous region during the warm season they frequent the higher ranges where spruce and pine abound; but at the approach of cold weather, when the snow begins to get deep, they descend to lower levels and pass the winter in the valleys and foothills. They are promiscuous vegetable feeders when hungry, but they much prefer the leaves and buds of deciduous trees and shrubs. Elk are polygamous and during the rutting season in September and early October the bulls fight savagely for the possession of the females. In these combats they use their antlers, sometimes with serious results;

but generally the vanquished is but slightly injured and goes away in search of other cows which by chance may be husbandless or at least are guarded by a bull less powerful than himself. One old and lusty bull will appropriate for his harem as many cows as he can get and will attack and drive away any presumptuous young bull which has the temerity to approach them. If, however, the battle results disastrously to the reigning lord of the herd, his conqueror will immediately take charge of the family of cows, who accept him as a matter of course. During the rutting season (and occasionally at other times) the bulls utter their "bugle" cry. It begins with a low roaring sound, rising to a shrill, screaming, double-toned whistle and ends with a series of loud grunts. The cry of the cow is penetrating and high, and may be crudely described as a squeal.

The majority of the young are born late in May or early in June but occasionally 1nuch later. On two occasions I have found newly born young in August. The number at a birth is usually one, sometimes two, and according to some authorities, rarely three. For a few days after birth, or until it has become quite strong and active, the little Elk calf is left concealed under bushes or high grass by the mother, who returns to it from time to time to suckle and care for it. On several occasions I have found young Elk thus hidden, which were certainly not more than a day or two old. Those which I have found would remain perfectly quiet and permit themselves to be stroked, but if lifted from the ground would usually struggle and "bleat " loudly. Young animals are spotted with white, but the spots fade and disappear when they are about 12 weeks old.

The size of the antlers and number of points vary more or less in different animals of the same age. One bull born in my Park, when 8 years old, had a fine pair of antlers having 14 points, while another 9 years old had but 13...The largest known Elk antlers are those recorded by Mr. Seton, measuring 64 and 66 inches long.

The name Elk is used for the European cousin of our Moose which, it is needless to say, is a very different animal from our "Elk." The common use of the name for both species is sometimes confusing, but there appears to be little chance of a new name being accepted for either. ... Many statements by ancient writers concerning animal biography are amusing, being undoubtedly derived from current popular traditions and tales of hunters and travelers. In their accounts of various species much space is usually devoted to describing the supposed medicinal or curative powers of different parts of the animals. In this connection we are informed that the hoofs of members of the Deer family are of value in the treatment of epilepsy, the left hind foot being especially recommended. Birt says: "Ancient authors relate that the Northern People catch the Elk by watching the Opportunity when it falls down of the Epilepsy, and laying hold of it before it recovers Strength enough to put its left hind Foot in its left Ear, which cures it immediately; and it is that particular Hoof, forsooth, which is the applauded Remedy for the Falling Sickness." (Wonders of Nature and Art, II, 1750, p. 114.)

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