Historical Origin And Design Inspiration
The elk, or wapiti (Cervus canadensis), is one of the largest species of deer in the world and one of the largest mammals in North America and eastern Asia. In the deer family (Cervidae), only the moose, Alces alces (called an "elk" in Europe), is larger, and Cervus unicolor (the "Sambar" deer) can rival the elk in size. Elk are almost identical to Red Deer found in Europe, of which they were long believed to be a subspecies; however, mitochondrial DNA evidence from 2004 strongly suggests they are a distinct species.
Elk range in forest and forest-edge habitat, feeding on grasses, plants, leaves, and bark. Although native to North America and eastern Asia, they have adapted well to countries where they have been introduced, including New Zealand and Argentina. Their high level of adaptability poses a threat to endemic species and ecosystems where they have been introduced.
Male elk have large antlers which are shed each year. Males engage in ritualized mating behaviors during the rut, including posturing, antler wrestling, and bugling, a loud series of screams which establishes dominance over other males and attracts females. The bugle call is one of the most distinctive calls in nature.
Elk are susceptible to a number of infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to livestock. Efforts to eliminate infectious diseases from elk populations, largely through vaccination, have had mixed success. Some cultures revere the elk as a spiritual force. In parts of Asia, antlers and their velvet are used in traditional medicines. Elk are hunted as a game species; the meat is leaner and higher in protein than beef or chicken.
Early European explorers in North America, who were familiar with the smaller red deer of Europe, believed that the much larger North American animal looked more like a moose, so they used the common European name for the moose, which is elk. The name elk is connected with the Latin alces, and with Old Norse elgr, Scandinavian elg, and German Elch, all of which refer to the animal known in North America as the moose. The name wapiti is from the Shawnee word waapiti, meaning white rump. The elk is also referred to as the maral in Asia, though this is due to confusion with the East European red deer (Cervus elaphus maral), which is a subspecies of European red deer. There is a subspecies of elk in Mongolia called the Altai maral (Cervus canadensis sibiricus), which is also known by names such as Altai wapiti, Siberian wapiti, and/or Siberian elk.