Roosevelt Elk

Cervus canadensis roosevelti

Last updated: September 24, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

The main predators of this species are grey wolves, mountain lions, black bears, and humans.


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Roosevelt Elk Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Artiodactyla
Family
Cervidae
Genus
Cervus
Scientific Name
Cervus canadensis roosevelti

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Roosevelt Elk Conservation Status

Roosevelt Elk Locations

Roosevelt Elk Locations

Roosevelt Elk Facts

Name Of Young
calf
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • Herd
Fun Fact
The main predators of this species are grey wolves, mountain lions, black bears, and humans.
Biggest Threat
hunting and loss of habitat
Most Distinctive Feature
large antlers
Other Name(s)
Olympic elk, Roosevelts' wapiti
Litter Size
1
Habitat
Temperate rainforests, mountains, forests
Predators
bears, wolves, mountain lions
Diet
Herbivore
Lifestyle
  • Crepuscular
Favorite Food
grass, ferns, mushrooms, berries
Location
North American Pacific Northwest
Migratory
1

Roosevelt Elk Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • White
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
40 mph
Lifespan
15-25 years
Weight
600-1200 pounds
Height
5.6 feet at the withers
Length
10 feet
Age of Sexual Maturity
2

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This species was named for Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt Elk Summary

The Roosevelt elk is the largest elk in North America, weighing up to 1,200 pounds. They are one of six subspecies of the North American elk (Cervus elaphus). The species is named for President Theodore Roosevelt, who helped preserve them by establishing what is today Olympic National Park. They are the largest species of elk in North America. Native Americans and settlers valued them for their hides and meat, as do hunters today. Elk steak reportedly tastes like tender, slightly sweet beef. At one time overhunting had reduced the species to a few hundred individuals, but present numbers are in the thousands and they are no longer considered endangered.

Roosevelt Elk Facts

  • They live in the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.
  • The namesake of the species was Theodore Roosevelt who set aside protected land to preserve them.
  • The species is also called the Olympic elk or Roosevelt’s wapiti.
  • Elk are the largest species in the deer family, and Roosevelt elks are the largest in North America.
  • Males are called “bulls,” females are “cows,” and their offspring are “calves.”
  • Elk live in segregated groups, with females and their calves in loose herds while bulls range independently or in small groups of other males until mating season.
  • Mating season is called the “rut.” It happens in late summer and early fall. Males compete for females by locking antlers and shoving one another.
  • Elk make a variety of sounds, including “bugling,” squeaking, barking, and roaring.
  • Hunting and habitat loss reduced Roosevelt elk to a few hundred, but they have bounced back into the thousands and are no longer an endangered species.
  • Elk meat is high in protein, tender, and tasty. Reportedly it tastes like slightly sweet beef.

Roosevelt Elk Scientific name

The scientific name of this species is Cervus canadensis roosevelti. Cervus is a root in Latin and Greek meaning “horn.” Canadensis is a reference to Canada, one of the primary range locations of the species. Roosevelti is a latinization of “Roosevelt.” The species is also called the Olympic elk or Roosevelt’s wapiti. The word “elk” originates in old Germanic and means “deer.” “Wapiti” is an Algonquian word meaning “white.” Some Native Americans used this term for elk because of the animal’s prominent white rump.

Roosevelt Elk Appearance

Mature bulls of this species weigh up to 1,200 pounds while cows weigh up to 624 pounds. They range up to 10 feet long and 5.6 feet tall at the shoulder. They are the largest elk by mass, but Rocky Mountain elk have greater antler size. Roosevelt elk are covered in short brown fur. Their coats are darker brown on and around their heads. Like white-tailed deer, they have a large white patch on their rumps. Their tails are short and deer-like. Males are larger than females and have antlers in the summer and fall which they shed in winter.

Roosevelt Elk Evolution and History

In Eurasia, fossils of the genus Cervus, the ancestors of the elk, date to 25 million years ago (the Oligocene). In North America, they first appear in the fossil record in the early Miocene (23-5.3 million years ago). About 1 million years ago elk were one of the Siberian species that crossed the land bridge to Alaska. Grizzly bears, moose, and humans were other species that made a similar journey. Elk could not get established very far south in the continent at first because there were already large indigenous animals in those habitats. After the glaciers melted and many of the previous local species had gone extinct, they were able to move further south and fill available spots in the ecosystem. About 12,000 years ago they encountered the southwestern deserts. This stopped them from expanding their range further south.

When millions of Native Americans died of European diseases starting in the 1500s, there was a great decline in hunting and a surge in the elk population. By the 19th century, hunting by European Americans nearly wiped out elk, but since then they have been reintroduced to their habitats and are generally doing very well.



Roosevelt Elk Behavior

This species is segregated by gender and age, with bulls living alone or in groups with other bulls and cows and their calves congregating in informal herds of 20 or so individuals. Males and females get together only during mating season in September. Elk have a distinctive call known as “bugling,” a type of simultaneous whistle and roar. They also communicate with each other with body language and a variety of squeals, barks, chirps, and mewing sounds.

Roosevelt Elk Habitat

This species of elk lives in temperate rainforests and mountainous regions in the Pacific Northwest. Their range is west of the Cascade mountain chain from coastal Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, to northern California. They migrate to higher elevations in the summer and down into sheltered valleys in the winter. They like lurking around grassy meadows in the forest where they can graze and warm themselves in the sun, but still quickly duck into the cover of the forest if a predator approaches.

Roosevelt Elk Diet

They are herbivores feasting on ferns, grasses, sedges, blueberries, salmonberries, mushrooms, and lichens. In the winter they eat more woody plants, like highbush cranberry, devil’s club, elderberry, and seedlings of Douglas fir and western redcedar.

Roosevelt Elk Predators and Threats

The natural predators of Roosevelt elk are grey wolves, mountain lions, and black bears. As with most species, humans are the most significant threat to them. Hunters have prized them for their meat, hides, and impressive antlers used as trophies or as decorator items for homes. Their antlers and velvet are also in demand in Asia for traditional medicine. Elk steak is higher in protein than beef or chicken and reputedly tastes like lean, tender, and slightly sweet beef.

Roosevelt Elk Reproduction and Life Cycle

Males of this species are called bulls, females are cows, and their offspring are called calves. They become mature at about 2 years old. The rut, or mating season, takes place in late summer and early fall. Bulls fight other adult males for mating rights to a small harem of cows. They use their antlers, necks, and bodies to shove one another and establish dominance, usually not actually hurting one another seriously. Cows bear one calf each year in the spring. The calves are born with spots to help them stay camouflaged as they hide during their fragile first few weeks. Once they become strong enough to keep up, they will join their mothers and the rest of the herd as they forage and protect one another from predators, finding strength in numbers. Wild Roosevelt elk can live up to 15 years, but in captivity can reach 25.

Roosevelt Elk Population

At one time the population of these magnificent creatures was only in the hundreds due to habitat loss and overhunting. Today, they have been reintroduced to various parts of their habitat where they had previously been exterminated. Hence, their numbers are now in the thousands and they are no longer considered endangered.

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About the Author

Drew Wood is a writer at A-Z Animals where his primary focus is on mammals, dinosaurs, and geography. Drew has worked in research and writing for over 20 years and holds a Doctorate in Religion, which he earned in 2009. A resident of Nebraska, Drew enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, reading, and caring for his four dogs.

Roosevelt Elk FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Who is the Roosevelt elk named after?

President Theodore Roosevelt, who established Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 to help protect the species.

What is the largest elk in North America?

The Roosevelt elk is the largest North American elk by body mass, but the Rocky Mountain elk has larger antlers.

What does elk meat taste like?

Those who have tried it say it is like lean, tender, slightly sweet beef. It has more protein than beef or chicken.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Nature Serve Explorer, Available here: https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.101331/Cervus_elaphus_roosevelti
  2. Wikipedia , Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_elk
  3. National Park Service, Available here: https://www.nps.gov/olym/learn/nature/roosevelt-elk.htm
  4. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/elk-mammal

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