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Elk (Cervus canadensis) are a species of large ungulate mammals that inhabit many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. They play an important role in North American ecosystems, providing food for other wildlife and helping to shape their habitats through grazing activities.

Wolves, bears, cougars, jaguars, and wolverines are all predators of elk. Smaller scavengers such as coyotes and foxes also feed off the carrion left by larger carnivores. Bald eagles have been observed targeting newborns while golden eagles specialize in hunting juvenile elk fawns

The ecology of elk is complex, with multiple predators vying for access to them as prey. This article examines what eats elk in different regions across the continent.


What Are Elk?

Elk are a species of large deer native to North America, Europe, and Asia. They belong to the Cervidae family, which includes other hoofed animals such as moose and caribou.

The largest elk subspecies is found in North America and can reach over 700 pounds (317 kg). Elk have reddish-brown coats with lighter patches on their throat, chest, belly, and rump. Males also possess antlers that grow each year from April until August before shedding them around December or January.

Elk form herds ranging anywhere from two to several hundred individuals depending on the time of year and availability of food sources.

During mating season males will compete for females by displaying aggressive behaviors such as roaring and sparring with one another using their antlers.

In regards to habitat, elk prefer open spaces where they can graze on grasses while staying close enough together to protect themselves from predators like wolves or bears.

Do you know what elk eat? Find out in this article.

Wolf pack

Elk, particularly the North American elk (Cervus canadensis), have several natural predators in their ecosystems. Predation on elk can vary depending on the region and the age and size of the elk. Here is a list of some of the primary predators of elk:

Gray Wolves

Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are one of the most significant natural predators of elk. It is estimated that 85% of a wolf’s diet in winter consists of elk. Wolves often form packs that can take down calves and larger adults. Wolf populations have increased significantly over recent decades due to reductions in hunting pressure and reintroduction programs, leading to healthier ecosystems.

Brown bear

Grizzly Bears

Calves or elk that are already injured or weakened become particularly susceptible targets for grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis). However, it’s important to note that while grizzlies are opportunistic hunters, they don’t rely on elk as their primary food source.

Black bear

Black Bears

Black bears (Ursus americanus) will also occasionally prey upon elk calves or sick adults. Bears do not usually attack healthy adults unless there is an abundance of cubs available for them to feed on instead.

Mountain lion

Mountain Lions

Also known as cougars or pumas, mountain lions (Puma concolor) primarily target deer but will also prey on elk, especially when deer populations are low. Mountain lions prey on young elk but may sometimes target older individuals if food is scarce. Coyotes tend to stick primarily with small mammals like rabbits or hares but may pursue elk when other options are unavailable. Mountain lions prey on young elk but may sometimes target older individuals if food is scarce.



Coyotes (Canis latrans) are opportunistic predators that may prey on elk calves or weakened adults. They usually hunt in pairs or small groups. Coyotes tend to stick primarily with small mammals like rabbits or hares but may pursue elk when other options are unavailable. Coyotes tend to stick primarily with small mammals like rabbits or hares but may pursue elk when other options are unavailable.



Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are small to medium-sized wildcats and may occasionally prey on elk calves or injured adults. Bobcats rarely attempt hunts against elk except when food is scarce or in severe winter weather.

Golden eagle

Golden Eagles

While not a primary predator of adult elk, Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) may prey on elk calves or injured individuals. Golden Eagles may occasionally target elk calves or individuals that are injured or vulnerable. Bald Eagles share a similar scavenging behavior with golden eagles and are more prone to feed on elk carcasses.

Bald eagle

Bald Eagles

Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) exhibit scavenging behavior when it comes to elk carcasses, often capitalizing on the availability of carrion as part of their dietary habits.

While their primary diet often consists of fish and carrion, bald eagles, being opportunistic feeders, may opportunistically prey on young or weakened elk when the opportunity arises in their varied diet.

Find out how good an elk’s senses are in this article.

Hunting Techniques Used By Predators

Different predators have various techniques to take down elk. Mountain lions are generally stealthy and will attack without being seen.

Mountain lions rely on surprise attacks when hunting large game such as elk, often stalking their quarry from above and behind trees or shrubs before leaping onto unsuspecting victims with lightning speed.

Wolves often work together as a team to hunt larger prey like elk. They commonly encircle their quarry while howling loudly to startle the elk into submission.

Individual members take turns chasing down and harassing the animal until it collapses from exhaustion.

Wolves will sometimes even attack sickly individuals within groups if they’re not able to chase down healthy targets first.

Coyotes use stealth and patience to hunt elk, yet unlike the cougar, they may pursue smaller herds over long distances until the herd is too exhausted to escape further pursuit.

Bears also prey upon elk, but this is typically done more opportunistically when other food sources become scarce.

Foxes prey on newborn elks or sick adults, which makes them easier targets due to their weakened state.

Natural Threats To Elk Populations

In order to mitigate the impact these predators have on an elk population, wildlife management tactics are employed for each species involved. Wolves may require relocation if their numbers have grown too high in an area and hunting can be regulated so healthy populations remain without becoming overly abundant.

Mountain lion numbers need to be monitored closely in order to ensure that there isn’t a decline in the elk population due to excessive predation.

Foxes and coyotes will need protection from humans who seek to reduce their presence near livestock or agricultural land where they might compete for resources with domestic animals.


Human Impact On Elk Predation

The impacts of human interaction on elk predation can have far-reaching consequences. In particular, changes in habitat due to human activities such as logging and agriculture often alter the patterns of predation by other animals.

A decrease in forest cover reduces the availability of food and shelter for predators, resulting in a greater number of elk surviving into adulthood and reproducing successfully.

In addition to impacting natural predation patterns, humans also directly affect elk through hunting, poaching, and other forms of harassment.

Hunting is one of the most common causes of elk population declines worldwide due to its popularity among recreational hunters looking for trophies or meat.

Poaching is another major concern and occurs when more animals than the legal limits set for sustainable harvest are killed.

This type of illegal activity not only threatens populations but also disrupts healthy ecosystems necessary for survival across species.

The lifecycle of an elk is amazing. Find out more here.

References And Further Reading

University Of Montana – Effects of elk group size on predation by wolves

The Journal Of Wildlife Management – Pumas Affect Elk Dynamics in Absence of Other Large Carnivores

Oregon State University – Effects of predation risk on elk landscape use in a wolf-dominated system

Mountain Lions – Falcon Pocket Guides