If you live in an area with a large population, it’s only natural to want to know more about them. Have you ever wondered where on Earth you’d find elk living?
Elk live primarily in North America and Eastern Asia. They have also been introduced to Argentina, Australia, Chile, and New Zealand. In the US, certain subspecies live in different areas, but elk can be found in approximately 20 states.
Let’s take a closer look at these places.
Here’s a Quick Look at Elk
Elk are the second largest species of deer and known to be found in forest habitats around the world. However, they primarily live in North America and Eastern Asia.
Their diet consists of grass, plants, leaves, and bark, so they will settle where they can find good sources of this. Because it’s such an adaptable species, the elk have been able to establish populations throughout a variety of environments.
There are six subspecies of elk located in North America; however, two of those are now extinct. Although they once roamed all of North America many years ago, most elk now reside in the United States of America, though the Roosevelt elk have spread into Canada as well.
They can live in almost all environments except tundra, dessert, and the gulf coast of the US.
These six subspecies of elk in North America are:
- Rocky Mountain – found near the Rocky Mountains but have been transplanted to other locations
- Roosevelt’s – found in the Coastal Pacific Northwest and parts of Canada
- Tule – found in Central California areas
- Manitoban – found in the Northern Great Plains
- Merriam’s – now extinct but were originally found in the Southwest and Mexico
- Eastern – also extinct, but were once found east of the Mississippi
Elk can be found mostly on the western side of the country, though there is a small population on the eastern side. The two subspecies found here are the Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt’s elk subspecies.
In Alberta, they have approximately 20,000 elk roaming the Rocking Mountain foothills, with some elk located in the national parks of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton.
Canada also created the Elk National Park, which helped preserve the population within the country.
Elk can be found in several states throughout the country. You can find a list of what states elk are in below, though the species isn’t limited to these regions.
- Alaska – Two subspecies of elk were introduced to Alaska in 1929 with the successful transplant of eight Roosevelt elk calves and they have since established themselves on both the Afognak and Raspberry Islands. Another transplant occurred in 1987 of both Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk after being moved from Oregon to Etolin Island in Southeast Alaska. These elk have also moved to Zarembo Island as a second breeding ground.
- Arizona – It took three successful transplants of elk to establish a population in the state of Arizona.
- Arkansas – First introduced in 1933, there is a small herd of elk that is approximately 450 animals.
- California – The most common subspecies of elk that live in California are the Roosevelt and the Tule elk. Tule elk are the only subspecies who will tolerate semi-desert environments and are primarily located in California.
- Colorado – Colorado has one of the highest populations of Rocky Mountain elk in North America with a population of 280,000. They can be found in the Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado’s National Forests.
- Kentucky – In 1998, Kentucky began one of the largest restoration projects of elk in the country. They currently have an estimated 11,000 elk in the state.
- Michigan – Roughly 1,000 can be found in the northeast Lower Peninsula. Places such as the Pigeon River Country State Forest are home to some of the state’s wild elk.
- Missouri – Between the years of 2011 and 2013, the state initiated a restoration plan. They were successful, but due to diseases and calf mortality (like due to meningeal worm infections) has kept the overall population low, roughly estimated at 100 to 200 elk.
- Montana – Elk are primarily found in the northeastern and north-central areas of the state. Areas such as the upper Gallatin, Blackfoot Valley, and Gardiner regions have lower populations due to the high wolf density in those areas.
- Nevada – In the last decade, the population of elk has doubled, which is approximately 17,500.
- New Mexico – Elk can be found in the mountainous regions of the state, primarily along the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountain ranges, the southwest region, and the south-central portion along the Sacramento Mountains.
- North Carolina – The state’s population started out as the Eastern elk, but as those became extinct, the elk found in North Carolina are now the Manitoban subspecies, with the population only totaling around 100-200 elk.
- Oregon – Found mostly in western Oregon, they tend to be more populated in the Coast, Cascade, and Blue Mountain ranges
- Pennsylvania – There is a large population of elk located in Pennsylvania’s Elk State Forest, which spans across four counties. A more thorough history of the elk can be found in the History of Pennsylvania Elk.
- Tennessee – In 2000, Tennessee began their restoration of elk by releasing elk into its population. As of 2019, the estimated number of elk in the state is around 350.
- Utah – Over the last 30 years, the population of elk in Utah has increased to roughly 68,000 animals.
- Virginia – Between 1997 and 2002, the state experienced an influx of elk due to spillover of the fast-growing population in Kentucky. However, this population in 2015 was only around 120 animals.
- Washington – Here, the Roosevelt elk are found in coastal regions and the western slopes of the Cascade mountain ranges. The Rocky Mountain elk are found in the mountain ranges on the eastern side of the state.
- West Virginia – Similar to the situation in Virginia, the growing success from Kentucky’s restoration elevated the need for West Virginia.
- Wisconsin – Elk is found in two areas of the state, in the areas surrounding the Clam Lake and Black River regions.
A shoutout to e-know.ca for sourcing some of the elk population info above.
First introduced to the country in the early 20th century. Often referred to as the Red Deer or Red Stag, these animals are now considered an invasive species because of the competition for food with the indigenous Chilean Huemul.
Elk were introduced to Chile around the same time as Argentina. Now because of the negative impact, these animals have on the indigenous wildlife, elk have been named one of the world’s 100 worst invaders.
Elk were actually a gift from President Roosevelt to New Zealand in 1909. 20 Roosevelt elk were released into the area of George Sound, Fiordland in the South Island.
There is only a small population of elk in the country.
The elk in Australia is known as the Red Stag or Red Deer. They are located mostly in southern Australia and have been declared a pest animal.
Also – Please Don’t Approach Elk!
As with all wild animals, elk can be dangerous if they feel frightened or threatened. If you see one in the wild, do not approach them. If they are disturbing your property or causing damages, call your local animal control to handle it for you.
You may not have that issue, but there you have it! The six places on Earth where elk live are primarily North America, Eastern Asia, Argentina, Australia, Chile, and New Zealand.
Jenkins, K. J., & Starkey, E. E. (1991). Food habits of Roosevelt elk. Rangelands Archives, 13(6), 261-265.
Murie, O. J. (2017). The elk of North America. Stackpole Books.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
Download My Free E-Book!
Take a look at my guide on Pest Proofing Your Home In Under a Day! I get into the nitty-gritty on the most common types of pests you’ll see on your property including BOTH insects and wildlife, along with the specific signs to look for regarding any pest you have questions about.