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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

“Fight Card”: Elk at Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada

Air Date: Week of

A pair of young male elk locked in battle at Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

A big bull elk can grow to more than 5 feet tall at the shoulders. Add in another 4 feet for antlers and the thousand-pound animals can be an intimidating sight, especially for the younger male elk looking to replace them. Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender has more.


BASCOMB: A big bull elk can grow to more than 5 feet tall at the shoulders, add in another 4 feet for antlers and the thousand pound animals can be an intimidating sight, especially for the younger male elk looking to replace them. Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender has more.

LENDER: Like a couple of boys blowing off some steam, a pair of young elk have decided to be sparing partners for the afternoon. Antlers are their fists, their hooves gripping a mat of winter grass the way Patterson and Mohammed Ali gripped that canvas deck. Balance is the basics. The hook and jab the bee. The butterfly the lockup, a well-articulated symmetry.

The “Champion of the World” bull elk bugles a warning. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

It starts out in mock anger like a friendly game of dice. Then someone rubs someone else the wrong way and the boys stop making “nice.” Eyes wide and bloodshot, they grunt deep in the throat and give it what they’ve got. It’s getting out of hand as a friendly exhibition fight turns into a grudge match.

So I get down in a pocket below the hill, like a referee looking low across the ring for an elbow an illegal punch a roll of quarters in that bony mitt, now that the velvet’s off the glove. The one losing ground, the one who’s on the ropes, he starts to whine. It’s looking bad. Probably not what they had in mind when they started this. Now there’s no choice.

Just before someone lands one but good and the other kid leaves with broken ribs, something drops it down a notch and they back off a little bit. All parts intact. Not jammed up in an unbreakable clinch the way it sometimes ends, out here.

Instead, they just… stand there. Trying to catch their breath, looking, out across that field over there where the Champion of the World is pretty much ignoring all of this. He’s the one who started it, prancing for his harem of an audience, reminding the boys of a whole wide world in which they haven’t got a chance. Eight, nine hundred pounds of bull elk, they stare at those muscles rippling as he walks, the confidence, the elegance! Both of them thinking more or less the same thought:

Access to females is what elk fights are all about. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Will you look at the rack on that guy? Man, he’d make a mess out of us…

But they just can’t help themselves.

They saunter over just to, you know -

And that big old bull raises his head and calls the way elk do, a whistling ringing of the bell by which he means, “Sonny boys, I’ve had enough of you.” And down the aisle he comes, a Flame of Pure Fire. And those two boys? They beat it past the cheap seats towards the woods, before that fire puts them out.

But then the bravest of the pair takes a last long look at the closest female of the bunch - a look you can read from way over here - thinking about the Contender that he wished he could have been, tonight!

BASCOMB: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender.



Visit Mark Seth Lender’s website

Special thanks to Destination Wildlife

Read Mark's Field Note for this essay


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