After our last two blogs on the history of bison we hope that none of our readers will run away screaming at the word “history”. While bison history is long and complicated, wapiti history is less so. It follows a similar (but less dramatic) arc to bison history, so we promise to keep things a little briefer this time!
(Not sure why we keep calling “elk” wapiti? We wrote a blog on that too!)
Like bison, wapiti migrated to North America a very long time ago. Once they’d arrived on the continent, they adapted and thrived in nearly every habitat available. The only areas wapiti couldn’t be found were the deep tundra and the true deserts. First Nation peoples used wapiti as a source of food, material for clothing and shelter, and for some cultures, wapiti also played an important role in spirituality and tradition.
Wapiti, like bison, was also over hunted. In fact, what was once the most prevalent wapiti species, the eastern elk, went from millions roaming eastern Canada and the US to extinction. The eastern elk were huge. A bull could weigh over 1000 pounds, and they were found everywhere from the Atlantic Ocean west to the Mississippi river. Unfortunately, no one alive has ever seen any of these magnificent wapiti, because European settlers killed the last one in 1877. Another species of wapiti, the Merriam’s elk which lived in Arizona, was also driven to extinction by settlers around the same time.
Between the near bison extinction, the successful extinction of these two wapiti species, and their genocidal tendencies towards the First Nations, it’s fair to say that European settlers did a whole lot more harm than good upon arrival.
Since then the species of wapiti most Canadians are familiar with, the Rocky Mountain Elk, has been introduced into the areas where their cousins once roamed.
Today, wapiti are no longer in any danger of going extinct. Regulated hunting in Canada and the US is a successful tool for keeping their population in check without posing a risk to the species. Wapiti are also kept in captivity where their antlers are harvested, and they are used for meat production.
If you’re interested in learning more about how our wapiti are raised or if you want to add some variety to your diet by including elk meat, the experts at Rangeland are here to help. We’d love to answer any of your questions and provide you information on our favourite meats.