Yellowstone: Elk

This is part of a series of posts about wildlife we saw in Yellowstone National Park during our June vacation in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

The elk, also known by the Indian name wapiti, is a large member of the deer family, larger than most deer but smaller than a horse. Elk nearly disappeared in the 19th century due to overhunting, but they’ve increased to 20,000 to 30,000 in Yellowstone NP.

This herd of females was feeding in a meadow outside the north park entrance in Gardiner. We parked alongside the road to take a look, and this elk wandered up to take a look at us. From the car door in the bottom left corner, you can see that the elk was very close to the car.

A barking dog in a car behind us got their attention momentarily. The elk looked up for a bit

elk listening to a dog bark
elk listening to a dog bark (click to enlarge)

and then went back to eating. Wapiti means white rump in Shawnee, an American Indian tribe.

wapiti means white rump
wapiti means white rump

Elk appear to be comfortable around people. We saw this herd in Gardiner just outside the park entrance. We also saw elk in Mammoth (a crowded town close to Gardiner) in the town park and on the lawn of the visitor center. Early one morning we saw a female elk a couple houses away from our Gardiner apartment. The owner of our rented apartment told us that a female elk likes to enter their yard and eat the sunflowers. Every front yard with plants in Gardiner is securely fenced.

According to Wikipedia, all North American elk seem to belong to the same subspecies. In California we’ve seen tule elk and Roosevelt elk, which are apparently the same as these Rocky Mountain elk in Yellowstone.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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