National Zoo & Aquarium

Hello! I’m a Wapiti Elk

Wapiti, or Elk, were once found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere; from Europe through northern Africa, Asia, and North America. Extensive hunting and habitat destruction have limited elk to a fraction of their former range. Wapiti are social animals living in herds of up to 400. While males form ‘harems’ during breeding season, the herd is ruled by a single female. Males vigorously defend their group with their impressive antlers and physical prowess. When breeding season is over, the herd then forms groups of males, who now all get along, and nursery groups of females and young.

Horns or Antlers? Which is the striking headwear of the male Wapiti? While both horns and antlers are used by males to battle for dominance, there is a distinct difference. Males in the deer family grow antlers. They are branched and grow as an extension of the animal’s skull. When they are growing antlers they are covered with a velvet that has its own blood supply and nerves. Once grown, they harden and the velvet falls off. When breeding seasons is over, the male drops the antlers and starts to grow a new even more impressive set for the next year. Horns are also found on bovids – cows, sheep and goats. They have a bony core and are covered by keratin; the same thing that makes up hair and fingernails. Horns are never shed, if they are broken, they will not re-grow.

The National Zoo & Aquarium is home to 7 Wapiti.

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Wapiti Elk Facts

Conservation Status Least Concern
Distribution Canada and western USA
Weight 67–497kg
Length 1.6–2.7m
Life Span 8 to 12 years in the wild, 20 years in captivity
Gestation 240–262 days

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Scrivener Dam, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2611

Open every day from 9:30am to 5:00pm

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