Elk History

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The first crude pictographs that early man recorded on cave walls in France depicted an animal with long legs and neck that we know as the elk. The elk and its close relatives, the European moose and red deer, have roamed throughout Europe and Asia for many centuries. Even the British and Irish islands have evidence of the existence of an elk-like animal.

The elk probably migrated to North America along the Aleutian land bridge that existed between Siberia and Alaska until about 2,000 years ago. Scientists believe that this is the only logical explanation why an old world animal such as the elk could be found roaming trough the new world when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.

Among the plethora of strange new world creatures they encountered, such as the wild turkey and white-tailed deer, they soon spotted an animal that they recognized as the European elk. This caused quite a stir at first because some early settlers thought that maybe there was a land bridge from Europe to America that had been overlooked. However, there were enough slight differences between European and American version of the elk to put those rumors to rest.

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Today, the elk is found mostly in the sparsely populated western states and Canadian provinces. However, when the early settlers arrived the elk roamed virtually throughout America, from eastern hardwood forests to the Northeast along the swampy coastline of the Carolinas, and then across the great plains all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

In fact, archaeologists have found evidence of elk in every state except Florida and Louisiana. Just about every major Indian campsite that has been excavated found some sign of the presence of elk, from elk horn tools to gnawed elk bones.

The closest relative to the elk is the European red deer. However, the European red deer is slightly smaller than the American elk, and tends to be quite a bit darker in color. Also, the red deer’s mating call is a loud, hoarse bellow, while the American elk screams out a loud, high-pitched whistle.

But the closeness of these two distinct species’ genetic makeup is irrefutable. In fact, red deer and elk readily mate and produce offspring. This fact has caused quite a bit of concern among naturalists who fear that imported red deer that have escaped from game farms and mated with wild elk may adulterate the pure and unique strain of the American elk.


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