Perhaps the most visible of all mammals living in Grand Canyon National Park is the Rocky Mountain Elk. Currently, a rim hike along Hermits Rest, from Bright Angel Trail, west towards Powell and Hopi Points, the elk are everywhere, and they seem to be there all day. Every rim hike lately is inevitably delayed as we are forced to circumnavigate these huge critters loitering about the trail.
Locals are accustomed to the Elk, visitors are in awe of them, especially when they learn that the elk are not indigenous to this region. The elk suited by evolution to thrive in the arid Northern Arizona climes – the Merriam Elk – was hunted into extinction in 1898. This triggered the need to shoot mountain lions, since the big cats grew aggressive as prey disappeared. One game warden, “Uncle John” Owens, personally laid claim to killing 532 lions.
This then caused the deer population in the region to rocket from under 10,000, to nearly 100,000 by the winter of 1906-7. By then, the deer had practically reduced the forest to tundra, and that winter, an estimated 95.000 deer starved to death.
In 1913 and 1914, Rocky Mountain Elk from Wyoming, were imported to restock natures shelves. The elk however were accustomed to large quantities of water and needed steady access to survive. Therefore, these Wyoming Imports are often seen grazing on grass regularly watered by sprinkler systems or seem to be encroaching on places where people are found. They are in search of water, and thirst conquered any fear once held for people.
Wherever there are sources of water, these elk are going to be found, and weighing up to 700 pounds makes them quite visible.
The adult males carry antlers that grow from late spring, until early spring of the following year when they fall off. By then the antlers can be four feet in length and weigh 40 pounds.
Elk are one of the most dangerous animals in Grand Canyon National Park. They are not usually aggressive, but will defend themselves if people get too close. Please do not approach elk, and view them from at least 100 feet (30 m).
In 2018, Grand Canyon National Park biologists started tracking the Elks with GPS, placing tracking collars on 8-10 adult Elks. The GPS information will be used to help reduce human-elk conflict, elk-vehicle conflict, and also to help with the development of a draft elk management plan. Read the Press Release for this program from 2018.
For more information about Elk in the Grand Canyon, visit the Grand Canyon National Park Page.
Listen to and download these Elk Sound Audio Files from the National Park Service