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Eastern Elk

Cervus canadensis canadensis

The eastern elk was a subspecies and geographically distinct population, of elk inhabiting the area east of the Mississippi river, with a range from Louisiana to the south, Ontario to the northwest and Vermont to the northeast. Although similar in appearance to western elk, their most distinguishing feature was their large size, with bulls reaching 1000 pounds, five ft at the shoulder and could have antlers six ft long. Other more minor anatomical differences of eastern elk is that they had a longer, more narrow skull. By the arrival of Europeans in the United States and Canada, elk were widespread, but their population started rapidly shrinking due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss. The last known eastern elk was shot by a hunter in Pennsylvania on September 1st, 1877, and were declared extinct in 1880.

One sighting of surviving eastern elk was in 1987, when various people claimed to have seen a small band of large elk north of Sault Saint Marie, Ontario. To this day, Sault Saint Marie is the largest hotspot for eastern elk sightings, with 31 different sightings since 2008, even though no elk have been reintroduced anywhere near the area. There have also been sightings around Golden Lake, Algonquin Park and Lakefield, although some suspect the elk sightings in Lakefield are vagrants from the Bancroft population, that were reintroduced in 2000 and 2001. Although eastern elk are still considered extinct, reintroduction of elk has been underway since the late 90’s, and it’s thought that there are now more then 1000 elk roaming Ontario.

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