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Living with Wildlife

Elk - Adorable Calves and Aggressive Moms

The Living with Wildlife column is published monthly in the Rocky Mountain Outlook to create awareness of living with wildlife challenges. We also work with local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote wildlife safety issues through the media on a weekly basis.

The elk calving season has arrived in the Bow Valley. To protect the safety of both elk and humans, we need to remember 2 things. First, give a cow elk and her calf plenty of room; at least 3 bus lengths. Female elk can be especially aggressive protecting their young. Second, if you see an unattended calf, leave it alone. Cow elk rarely abandon their calves. You are likely witnessing normal behaviour of a mother elk hiding her calf while she forages for food. True cases of abandoned wildlife are extremely rare.

The young elk are born during May and June. When a cow is ready to give birth, she often leaves the group to find a secluded site.

Cow elk hide their calves to keep them safe. Camouflaging coloration (its spotted coat) and an apparent lack of odour enable calves to escape detection by most predators. An elk calf’s defence strategy is to lie still, blending in with their surroundings, until danger passes. The cow also helps hide the calf by eliminating any signs of her calf that a predator might detect. She devours the placenta and any soil or vegetation soaked by the birth fluids, and even eats the newborns feces. To avoid leading predators to her young, she grazes away from the hidden calf and returns to nurse it only a few times a day.

Cow elk are extremely protective of their young. If a predator approaches, she may attack or try to lure the predator away from her calf. Cow elk perceive humans to be predators. Stay away! Grizzly bear, black bear, cougar, wolves, and coyotes also predate on calves.

Once a calf can run fast enough to escape most predators the cow and calf will join the herd. Calves are weaned in late summer but follow their mother until the following spring. In the first year of life a calf elk will gain over 130 kilograms (approx. 250 – 300 pounds)!

If you know the mother has been killed, for example; hit by a vehicle on the highway, or are believe a calf is abandoned, please report the situation to 403-591-7755.

Additionally, residents are encouraged to report any sighting of bear, cougar or aggressive elk to 403-591-7755.
For all public safety emergencies call 9-1-1.

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