Animal Life in the Yosemite
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DWARF ELK. Cervus nannodes Merriam

The history of the Dwarf or Tule Elk, the largest hoofed game animal known to have occurred in the Yosemite section, is a closed chapter. Once abundant on the plains of the San Joaquin Valley along the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, it is now entirely extinct there. Being of large size as compared with other native game, and possessing flesh that was highly palatable, the elk was singled out for first attention in a country plentifully supplied with game. Its disappearance was evidently more rapid than that of the Mountain Sheep and Pronghorn Antelope. We cannot, however, feel so great regret in the passing of the elk as in the case of the Mountain Sheep. Elk, in numbers, could not exist today in the San Joaquin Valley where intensive agriculture is practiced, without inflicting great damage.

Records of elk within the Yosemite section are fragmentary. Edward Bosqui in his Memoirs (1904, p. 66) tells of meeting with a herd of elk on Dry Creek, north of the present town of Snelling, in the winter of 1850-1851. He was camped on the then dry bed of the watercourse in a grove of big cottonwoods.

At daylight the next morning I was suddenly awakened by the heavy tramp and noise of large animals, and on looking through the fog which prevailed I could see indistinctly, not thirty yards away, giant-like figures of elk passing, so to speak, in procession before me. They were tossing their great antlers about and sniffing excitedly. Suddenly, with one accord and with an impulse that shook the ground like an earthquake, they swept out of sight. It was a procession of phantoms such as one might conceive in a nightmare, and left an impression on my youthful mind never to be forgotten.

W. L. Manly in a book entitled "Death Valley in '49" (San Jose, 1894, p. 392) tells of following up the Merced River [below Snelling]. "As we [he] came near groves of willows, big, stately elk would start out and trot off proudly into the open plains to avoid danger. These proud, big-horned monarchs of the plains could be seen in bunches scattered over the broad meadows, as well as an equal amount of antelope. They all seemed to fear us, which was wise on their part, and kept out of rifle shot." Later, this author and a companion came down from Big Oak Flat to the plains to try to get some elk meat to use on a contemplated trip. But they were altogether outwitted by the elk and had to shoot some antelope instead.

The Tule Elk was deer-like in general appearance, but of much larger size and different coloration. The antlers of the old males were large, widely spreading, and considerably branched. The coloration of the Tule Elk was pale brown, with a large whitish area on the rump.


Animal Life in the Yosemite
©1924, University of California Press
Museum of Vertebrate Zoology

grinnell/mammals76.htm — 19-Jan-2006