Social Behavior Of The Elk


Elk are extremely social animals. Unlike other members of the deer family, who may be found in roaming the land alone or in small groups, elk tend to congregate in large herds at all times. In open grasslands, it is not unusual to see two hundred or more elk meandering over the land.

No doubt, this is due to the elk’s natural desire to be a grazing animal of the plains, where the tendency of plains dwellers, such as the antelope and buffalo, is to form a large group. This tendency not only aids the elk in detecting danger, but a large number of these powerful, sharp-hooved animals have the ability to dissuade even large predators such as bears and wolves from attacking a large group of alert, protective elk.

Even when a large predator, such as a grizzly bear, does bust up the herd with a sudden rush, the elk usually run off only a couple hundred yards and regroup into a loose herd again. Curiously, the elk often go back to feeding and lazing around just a few hundred yards from the grizzly’s kill site.

Even in the dense forests of the Rocky Mountains and coastal rain forests, where sight distance is often limited to 20 yards or less, the elk still seek each other out, and groups of a dozen or more animals are not uncommon. The elk accomplish this chore by constantly “talking” to each other in a soft, nasal, bird-like chirp. To paraphrase the meaning of this sound would be something like this: “Here I am; where are you?”

Probably the best place to see the elk’s social behavior is in a national park, such as Yellowstone or Grand Teton in the United States, or Banff in Canada. Large herds of elk, often numbering a hundred or more, can be seen grazing peacefully, with a constant musical talk carried on between the animals.


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