Natural Sightings bull elk

An American Elk bull in Bear Valley Springs.

Contributed by Dwight Parham

Dwight Parham took this photo near his home in Bear Valley Springs of an American Elk bull (Cervus canadensis nelsoni). The elk now found in the Tehachapi Mountains are descended from some that were introduced to several large ranches in the 1970s, including the Tejon Ranch and Black Oaks Ranch.

This particular subspecies is also known as Rocky Mountain Elk, and are the most widespread elk found in North America. This is why they are often called American Elk, since they are by no means limited to the Rocky Mountain range — they are now found in many states. The overall elk population in the U.S. is estimated to be about a million animals, and prior to colonization, there was estimated to be as many as 10 million.

Confusingly, in Europe moose are called "elk," so in North America the name 'Wapiti" is often used for elk — it is a version of a Cree and Shawnee word waapiti, which means "white rump." There has long been considered to be four subspecies of elk in the United States: Roosevelt Elk, Manitoban Elk, Rocky Mountain Elk and Tule Elk. Recent DNA studies, however, suggest that all four of these may actually belong to a single subspecies and the four different types may actually be what are known as ecotypes or races.

When you see elk in person, the most striking thing is their bulk — they are a type of deer, but in terms of size they look more like a horse with antlers, or a tall cow. John Wesley Powell, famous as one of the first men to explore the Colorado River by raft, was known to occasionally resort to helping himself to cattle he encountered, which he referred to as "slow elk." The Nüwa (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for elk is parahui, pronounced pa-ra-HOO-ee.

Natural Sightings is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, thou may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: