What happens when you add wolf to Yellowstone? So far history is showing that the park becomes healthier. One consequence of adding the Wolf to Yellowstone is that the elk population has dropped dramatically. As of February 2013, the northern herd, which is only a portion of the park’s entire elk herd, has declined from a high of more than 19,000 before wolves were reintroduced into the park in 1995 to a low of 3,915 Elk. As Yellowstone’s most abundant ungulate, elk comprise approximately 90 percent of winter wolf kills and are an important food for bears, mountain lions, and at least 12 scavenger species, including bald eagles and coyotes. Competition with elk can influence the diet, habitat selection, and demography of bighorn sheep, bison, moose, mule deer, and pronghorn. Elk browsing and nitrogen deposition can affect vegetative production, soil fertility, and plant diversity. Thus, changes in elk abundance over space and time can alter plant and animal communities in Yellowstone. I search for these incredibly beautiful mammals. In the spring they are in full velvet.
Coming off a harsh Yellowstone winter some of the Elk look pretty ragged as a portion of their winter coat hangs on them.
The amazing thing is that the Elk antlers while in “velvet” can grow an inch or more a day. That’s amazing if you think about it. As thrilling as the late summer rut is, this time of year the elk are absolutely gorgeous!
Elk have played an important role in the cultural history of a number of peoples. Pictograms and petroglyphs of elk were carved into cliffs thousands of years ago by the Anasazi of the southwestern U.S. More recent Native American tribes, including the Kootenai, Cree, Blackfeet, Ojibwa and Pawnee, produced blankets and robes from elk hides. The elk was of particular importance to the Lakota, and played a spiritual role in their society. At birth, Lakota males were given an elk’s tooth to promote a long life since that was seen as the last part of dead elk to rot away. The elk was seen as having strong sexual potency and young Lakota males who had dreamed of elk would have an image of the mythical representation of the elk on their “courting coats” as a sign of sexual prowess. The Lakota believed that the mythical or spiritual elk, not the physical one, was the teacher of men and the embodiment of strength, sexual prowess and courage. My bet the drawings and depictions of Elk did not reflect some of the unusual positions elk take to scratch and shake of insects.
Like other large Mammals in the park the elk can be taxi’s for black birds……
I really do search out photo opportunities with the Elk. Early morning travels are almost exclusively for Elk now that the population has dropped. For the most part, it’s more difficult to find the big guys. I did photograph numerous cow elk. It’s just not the same photo in the end.
A week of shooting elk in Yellowstone did produce one shot I will keep close………..