Protecting and enhancing the natural values of Salt Spring Island and its surrounding waters



Elk Cervus elaphus roosevelti

Elk are the second-largest member of the deer family in North America, with Vancouver Island bulls weighing several hundred kg. Elk are tan to reddish-brown with a dark mane and a large white rump patch. The cows are slightly smaller, weighing  less. The males have large spreading antlers that sweep back over the shoulders and are shed in February-March.

Elk live in large herds, mostly living the year out in bull groups or cow groups. During the fall breeding season, they intermingle, the bulls competing for the attention of the cows. Cows are reproductive at two years of age and usually have one calf per year.

Elk graze but are generalist grazers on a variety of plants from forbs and shrubs to trees and lichens. This allows them to occupy a range of habitats, including forested stands, grasslands, subalpine and alpine areas. These large animals will undergo seasonal migrations between summer and winter habitats, to seek out better forage, and avoid predators and insects.

Roosevelt Elk occur mainly on Vancouver Island and consist of a smaller population than the Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) which has a population of about 43,000 in British Columbia. These populations are considerably reduced from what they would have been 150-200 years ago. Declines were most severe from the mid 1800’s to mid-1900’s. Disease, severe winters, predation and intensive hunting are all thought to have contributed to this decline.

Reference: Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Bulletin on Elk