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Orignal © MNHN - F-G Grandin

Moose or Elk

The elk, Alces alces, known as moose in North America, is the largest of the Cervids. With its long hooves and palmate digits, it is adapted to swampy areas. Its broad palmate antlers are characteristic of the species.


Class, order & family :

Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, Cervidae

Genus :


Species :


Subspecies :


Lifespan :

22 years

Height and weight :

2 m max at the shoulder; 600 kg at the most

Gestation :

8 months, one baby

Natural habitat :

boreal and mixed deciduous forests

Régime alimentaire :

herbes, plantes aquatiques, feuilles, branches, écorces, racines

Diet :

grass, aquatic plants, leaves, branches, bark, roots

IUCN status: 

LC, Least concerned

Way of life

The elk, or moose, is a solitary creature. Unlike the majority of Cervids, the male does not form a harem: in summer, during the rut, it joins a female, attracted by her scent and long moans which it can hear more than 3 km away thanks to its exceptional hearing and very mobile ears.

The elk does not cope well with heat and can often be found cooling down in lakes and rivers; an excellent swimmer, it can cover extensive distances across water, which also helps to protect it from mosquitoes, ticks and large predators. By blocking its nostrils, it can dive up to a depth of 6 metres, staying submerged for around thirty seconds and grazing on cellulose-rich aquatic plants at the bottoms of marshes. It has an excellent sense of smell which allows it to find food that is buried under the snow.

Distinguishing features

Elk are the largest of the Cervids. It has large and palmate antlers, real tools of seduction that can measure 1.60 m across, weigh up to 30 kg and are shed in autumn. Its short neck means that it can’t eat plants close to the ground. Thanks to its long legs which it can stand up on, it can reach foliage more than 3 metres high and grab it with ease using its particularly mobile and well-developed upper lip. Its broad and partially palmate hooves help it to move through the snow.


The elk was present in Europe, particularly in France, until the beginning of the Middle Ages.

In Russia, the elk was domesticated to transport heavy loads in marshy areas where horses found it difficult to access. Hunted intensively, particularly in Poland, Russia and Siberia, it survived in areas where it was on the brink of disappearing thanks to successful protection and reintroduction programmes.

In North America it is, like other Cervids, the victim of a disease that affects the nervous system, similar to scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Orignal © MNHN - P. Roux
Orignal © MNHN - P. Roux
Orignal © MNHN - P. Roux
Orignal © MNHN - F-G Grandin