Is this massive bull elk curious? Challenging? Or is he just saying, "Welcome to Benezette?"
When European settlers came to North America, elk (also called wapiti) ranged in the eastern U.S. from northern New York to central Georgia but we cleared the forest and hunted the elk, reducing their habitat and numbers until Pennsylvania's last native herd died out by 1877.
In 1913 the Game Commission reintroduced elk from the Rocky Mountains to their last known location in north central Pennsylvania. The herd, now centered in Benezette, Elk County, remained small until the late 20th century. Since then they've expanded in Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton and Centre counties as well.
Elk prefer forest edges and open meadows. In summer they eat grass and flowering plants; in winter, leaves, bark and twigs.
These animals are huge. The males are 25% larger than the females and can weigh up to 1,100 pounds. They stand 50-60 inches tall at the shoulder and their antlers can span five feet. This headgear is heavy, up to 25 pounds.
Bulls grow new antlers every year. They shed them in February and March and begin to regrow them immediately up to an inch per day. To give you a sense of this rapid growth, these antlers are only four to five months old. Wow!
Right now the elk herd is dispersed. The cows went off alone in June to give birth to their single calves. The males, meanwhile, are wandering and grazing. The herd will meet up in the fall for the breeding season, called the rut.
If you want to see Pennsylvania's elk herd, plan a trip to Benezette in September or October when the bulls will be bellowing and jousting to see who can claim the most and best cows.
Will you see this particular bull when you go? If you do, don't get this close! He's going to be in a fractious mood.
His photographer, Paul Staniszewski, saw him only two days ago in Benezette. Paul has years of experience photographing elk and even he was surprised by this close approach. As he says, "I have been trying to photograph an elusive bull elk known locally as "Attitude" and I finally got an opportunity yesterday [July 6]. I was about 20 feet away when I snapped this photo and he continued to walk toward me to about 5 feet away. I could have touched him... Scary stuff... "
As Paul said, "You can see in his face why they call him "Attitude."
For a slideshow and information on Pennsylvania elk, see Paul Staniszewski's website and the links on his web page.
(photo by Paul Staniszewski)