The wapiti, Cervus canadensis, is after the largest Cervid, after the elk. A distant relative of the red deer, the wapiti is native to Asia.
Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, Cervidae
1 m at the shoulder; 140 kg at the most
8 to 9 months, one baby
forests and forest edges
leaves, grasses, fruit, bark
North America, Asia
LC, Least concerned
Way of life
Males are either solitary or form small groups while females form large herds led by the eldest, who is familiar with the migration routes. During the rut, males challenge each other with their bellows and by fighting with their antlers. The winner takes ownership of a harem which it then defends from rivals and predators. During this period, it eats very little, losing up to 20% of its bodyweight. The female wapiti moves away from the group to give birth, and her young remain camouflaged in the grass for two weeks until it joins the group and is big enough to run away when faced with a predator.
The wapiti has long been regarded as the largest subspecies of red deer, but genetic analyses seem to indicate that the wapiti is closer to the sika deer. Wapitis are believed to be of Asian origin and migrated towards America via the Bering Strait during the last ice age. Of the 8 recognised subspecies, 4 are North American and 4 are Asian. Antlers can measure 1.2 m long and weigh 18 kg. Each antler can have 8 or more branches.
In autumn, the coat changes colour, going from reddish to brown and, along with the mane on its neck, it thickens in preparation for winter.
“Wapiti” means “white rump” in the language of the Shawnee, a Native American tribe. Among the eyes of the Lakota people, it represented strength and courage, and every newborn boy would receive a wapiti tooth to guarantee a long life.
Because wapiti meat is low in fat and rich in protein, it has been introduced as game in a number of countries (New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Australia) and has adapted to semi-desert areas as well as all types of forests and mountainous regions. This ability to adapt has made it an invasive species which threatens ecosystems and competes with local wildlife.