Winter Vacation

Canadian Reindeer Look-Alikes: Elk, Caribou and Mule Deer

A few weeks ago, Ava, a Filipino blog reader wondered what elk was after I mentioned we were going to have elk for our Christmas meal.

So after plumbing into our well of digital photo archives, I resurfaced with some wonderful photos:  I just could not write a blog post that featured a dish of meat against these magnificent animals.

Male mule deer as distinguished by its rack of antlers which they shed every February. Banff National Park, by Vermillion Lake. Alberta 2002. Photo by HJEH Becker

Male mule deer as distinguished by its rack of antlers which they shed every February. Banff National Park, by Vermillion Lake. Alberta 2002. Photo by HJEH Becker

It is not a contradiction for me since I do eat meat several times per month – very lean meat and seafood. We buy directly from farmers who raise elk and deer for meat.  They are there at the Calgary Farmers’ Market, along with the bison ranchers.  We only have this meat several times annually since it is not cheap but in Alberta, the quality is excellent and it is locally raised.

These blog photos were taken in the Canadian national parks where these animals are protected wildlife. Our  photos were taken in the national parks of Banff and Jasper.  Hunting is illegal and for a good reason.  As more tourists pile into the parks, roads and trails built for human travel, the wildlife are increasingly pushed  further away from their natural feeding and grazing areas.  Several million visitors visit these parks annually year round.  These parks are rock-stars that give Canada the world-wide fame for its many million hectares of remote, awe-inspiring mountain wilderness and wildlife.

Woodland Caribou Herds –Recovery of  Endangered Species
Most recently the Canadian federal government authority, Parks Canada that is responsible for federal, protected wildlife and national park areas across Canada, have

Male elk, probaby a teenager. Along Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park. Alberta 2001. Photo by HJEH Becker

Male elk, probaby a teenager. Along Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park. Alberta March 2001. Photo by HJEH Becker. Elk are also wapiti in the Shawnee First Nations language.

raised the numbers of the endangered species, the woodland caribou in the Albertan Rocky Mountains.  Some caribou will be returned to their natural habitat starting this year.  (Sorry, we don’t have any personal photos.)

Secondly, starting in 2013, Parks Canada will shut down the Bow Valley Parkway highway annually  from Banff to Lake Louise,  at night during March to July to prevent car traffic. This quieter highway is parallel to the busy Trans-Canada Highway.   This effort will be enforced and allow the wildlife to move down from the mountains to graze freely  in their natural feeding areas and migrate about undistributed.

Hungry After Every Snowy Mountain Winter
In March 2001, we saw a lot of deer and some elk when we drove along the Parkway. The snow along the road had melted off and the naked mountain sides had not fully bloomed with their tender spring green tree buds.  Many of these animals looked thin after long, snowy mountain winter and were scrounging around for food near the roadside in the forested areas.

Small crowd of hungry elk feeding by Bow Valley Parkway. Banff National Park, Alberta March 2001. Photo by HJEH Becker

Small crowd of hungry elk feeding by Bow Valley Parkway. Banff National Park, Alberta March 2001. Photo by HJEH Becker. That is an elk with 1 antler. Stags (male elk) have antlers.

This is Nature’s typical cycle of animals either re-emerging after winter hibernation or subsisting on their fat during long cold winters in the northern hemispheres when temperatures drop well below freezing and there is less plant life for food.

These animals might be deemed as reindeer by romantics, but they are not. The First Nations people in this part of Canada, didn’t domesticate them for pulling loads.  They are wildlife and if encountered as a cyclist or hiker, is to learn not to startle them and distance yourself quickly.  In the 1990′s, wild elk ventured often into Banff town site which caused problems in some attacks on humans, feeding on gardens and damaging trees.  Regular elk visitors were referred by locals as “townies”.  Now the elk tend to stay away from the urban areas which is a good thing for both the animals and humans.  They are never to be fed by humans.

Pair of young wild mule deer checking out a local Swiss-Italian restaurant. Banff, Alberta Jan. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Pair of young wild mule deer checking out a local Swiss-Italian restaurant. Banff, Alberta Jan. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

I have some more photos which have not been digitized.  There is another personal photo treasure: another magnificent brown elk munching on a pink flower bud in its mouth.  One day later and soon!

More Reading:
Parks Canada.  Elk in Banff National Park.

Parks Canada. Species At Risk: Woodland Caribou.  Nov. 2011. Photos of caribou for you to see the differences from elk and mule deer.

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23 thoughts on “Canadian Reindeer Look-Alikes: Elk, Caribou and Mule Deer

    • Maybe one day you’ll travel north to see these wonderful creatures– from a distance. :) I’ll get around to doing a blog post on elk dishes. One day.

  1. Oh wow!!! Thanks Ms. Jean for putting this post together! Very informative as usual. :) I’ve yet to make good on my promise on posting something about our Christmas meal. I’m still in vacation and internet is not as accessible for me as of the moment. I hope you had a very merry christmas!

    • I’m sure you’ll return to your blog shortly. I look forward to your complementary blog post. But I doubt very much it will be an animal that would look like an elk. :)

    • @Micki & MaiBao- Farmed elk meat (photos feature wild protected elk and deer) doesn’t take long to cook. Otherwise it gets tough.

      MaiBao- Bear meat? Gee, wonder what that’s like. I think bears are protected in all of our national and provincial parks. They do wander down from the mountains and end up occasionally in residential areas of North Vancouver. But people call the authorities who traquilize the bear and move them back to the wilderness.

      • I ate the bear meat by accident. I thought it was beef. It looks like beef and tastes like beef, but it has that gamey, wild taste to it.

  2. They are such beautiful creatures! The only “wild” meat out of the “norm” that I’ve had is bear meat and it was not on Christmas. It’s refreshing to learn something new. Thank you.

  3. The animals are beautiful. It’s not often that we see animals roaming freely in the wild in Singapore due to the land constraint. Being able to witness these gorgeous creatures in their natural habitat is such a rare sight. :)

    • It is a wonderful shock to see them close –though you do want to be in a car or at least 10 ft. away. I am not familiar what type of wild animals there would be in Singapore.

  4. I’m in awe. What a city-rat, huh? The closest I’ve come to seeing anything close to an elk is a deer somewhere in Connecticut. Honestly, though, I had no idea you could eat elk meat – must make for a tasty burger!

  5. While I lived in northern California, we had Rosevelt Elk on the coast. One time while hiking in the Redwood National Forest, I actually came face to face with a hole herd! The stand about 12 feet tall. Lets just say that when your only 6 feet away from this beautiful animal, you kinda feel….like the teddy bear guys from star wars if you were standing next to Chewbaka! It’s illegal to hunt those in California, but when I came to Minnesota, a co-worker brought in some Elk he had hunted and I must say that they are quite the tastey meal. By the way, thank you for bringing back some very fond memories for me!

  6. I love your blog! Have been browsing around it like a happy caribou eating lichen…btw, caribou actually are the same species as reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), there are very few differences, other than the fact that (some) reindeer have been long-domesticated and caribou haven’t.
    Thanks for all the wonderful posts and pictures!

    • Thanks for dropping by. Great metaphor of happy caribou like a happy reader. One wonders if the reindeer are naturally easier to domesticate vs. the elk since the Sami people in Finland (?) had domesticated them for pulling loads, etc. However I am not aware the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic ever domesticated elk historically at all.

      I’ll be referring your blog to a young niece who is doing some braiding for fun. It’s great in particular to pass down handcrafts and hand skills to younger generation who are so accustomed to pre-made goods/computerized services these days. (which means I should haul out my sewing machine more often) :)

    • Thanks Ben. We just saw some bull elk..yesterday at Banff National Park in the town itself. We have never seen 2 and a female for such an extended period of time.

      Do you live in an area where you’ve seen them or maybe you’re a Canadian/American westerner.

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