Tule Elk

ORDER: Artiodactyla

FAMILY: Cervidae

GENUS: Cervus

SPECIES: elaphus nannodes

Sometimes called dwarf elk as it is our smallest elk. A fully matured bull (or stag) will weigh 700 pounds with the cows (or hinds) about three-fourths as large. Only males have antlers which are rounded and widely spread, averaging four to six points on each. Antlers are shed in March with new ones fully grown by September. Elk bulls and cows have reddish summer coats with darker head and legs. Rump patches have a tawny appearance. The long winter coat appears brown, varying from gray on the sides to very dark head and legs. The tule elk's coat is paler both winter and summer than other varieties.

Originally a valley animal found only in California. It did not migrate to the mountains in the summer like other elk, although in the rainy winter months it would move into the low foothills. Once found abundantly on the plains of the San Joaquin Valley and along the banks of the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers, now mostly agricultural.

Herbivorous. Grazes on grassy areas and browses on leaves and twigs.

Generally gregarious. Frequently the younger males will join females with their young to form large bands. The older mature bulls usually spend the summer alone or in small bachelor groups. In September, as soon as the antlers are fully developed, the mating season occurs. The bulls make their presence known by "bugling" a clear musical whistle that calls the cows to them. New bands are formed which consist of 5 to 20 females and a single bull. Each bull, by his dominance, holds the cows together in a harem band. Cows carry their young about eight and a half months; a single calf is born in May or June of the following year. The calf is spotted when born and is eating green vegetation by the time it is a month old, but the mother may continue to nurse it until winter. The calf can take care of itself by fall but may stay with its mother through the winter. At the age of four it is fully grown. Life span is 15 to 22 years.

Wolves, coyotes and cougars prey on elk. Since healthy elk can run as fast as 35 mph they can usually escape. If necessary the females can defend themselves or their young with their hooves. A kick can break a wolf's back.

All sub-species of elk can interbreed. The American elk is our second largest species of deer with the American moose the largest. The moose (an Indian name) is native to both North America and Eurasia. In Europe the moose is called an elk and our elk are considered the North American representative of the European red deer. The American elk is more correctly known by its Shawnee Indian name "Wapiti", or white rump.

The tule elk are located in the High Veldt and can be seen from the Sky Ride.

Gold prospectors almost wiped out the tule elk in the 1840s. In 1885 there were only 28. This number has now increased, mainly because of three reserves in California's chaparral region. They are no longer considered endangered. This animal has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN.


  1. Nowak, Ronald. 1991. Walker
  2. Vanishing Species. 1976. Time-Life books, NY.