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(Alces alces), or European elk, an artiodactyl, the largest species of the family Cervidae. The male has a body length of up to 3 m and measures 2.3 m high at the shoulder and weighs 570 kg. The females are smaller. The legs are long, with narrow, pointed hooves. The head is long with a humped nose and an overhanging fleshy upper lip; the ears are long and mobile. There is a pendulant hairy flap of skin, known as the bell, beneath the throat. The tail is short. The males have palmate antlers that extend sideways; the females have no antlers. The coat is coarse. There is a manelike tuft of long hairs on the top of the neck and shoulders. In the winter the pelage is dark brown, and in the summer it darkens to nearly black; the legs are white.
The elk is widely distributed in the forest zone of Europe (east of Poland) and in Asia, sometimes penetrating into the forested tundra, the forested steppe, and the steppe. In the winter it feeds on the shoots and bark of willows, aspens, mountain ashes, pines, and other trees. In the summer it also feeds on grassy plants, such as willow herbs, cotton grasses, and water lilies. Its long legs enable it to move through snow up to 90 cm deep. The elk is a solitary animal or lives in groups of five to eight individuals, occasionally as many as 20. The animals mate in September or October; the calves, one or two, are born in May or June. The antlers are shed in December and new ones appear in August.
The elk is valued commercially for its meat and its tough hide, which is used to make leather. Since the elk population has been increasing, a controlled hunting program has been enacted. In the USSR experiments are being conducted to domesticate the elk for use as a beast of burden in the taiga.
REFERENCESBiologiia i promysel losia, collections 1-3. Moscow, 1964-67.
Mlekopitaiushchie Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 1. Edited by V. G. Geptnsr and N. P. Naumov. Moscow, 1961.
I. I. SOKOLOV
a city in northeastern Poland, in Suwalki Województwo. Population, 33,000 (1976). Elk, a railroad junction, has food-processing enterprises and plants for the production of electrical engineering products, veneer, building materials, and linen.