Bull elk in the shade

A bull elk is found in Bear Valley Springs.

Contributed by Sharon Weaver

Sharon Weaver took this photo near her home in Bear Valley Springs of a bull elk standing in the shade. Known as Rocky Mountain or American Elk (Cervus canadensis nelsonii), our local herds are descended from some animals that were released on a couple of large ranches in the Tehachapi Mountains in the 1970s.

A smaller species known as Tule Elk (Cervus canadensis nanodes) is native to Kern County, and these elk once lived in large herds in the huge flood plains and lakes formed by runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The Nüwa (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for elk is parahui, pronounced pah-rah-HOO-ee. The sound "pa" is used as the first syllable in the name of animals associated with water, and the Nüwa word for deer is tuhui, so they basically gave the name "water deer" to Tule Elk in observance of their tendency to be found in marshy locations.

American Elk also like water — they have often been seen standing in water in small lakes in Bear Valley and Stallion Springs to cool off in the heat of summer, behavior that is extremely rare in the California Mule Deer that are found throughout the area.

Although elk are members of the deer family, they are huge compared to their smaller cousins — elk are closer in height to horses than Mule Deer, with female elk weighing about 500 pounds and bulls weighing 700 pounds.

Bulls, cows and even calves prepare for winter by growing a thicker coat of hair, which includes a mane of dark brown hair on their necks.

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, you 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: editorial@tehachapinews.com.