It is mating season, and the bulls that we met last time have harems of from 5-30 females each.
The one in the right foreground below had 26 females!:
The male guards them day and night, because younger ‘periphery bulls’ lurk nearby, hoping to impregnate any female that strays from the group.
The young spikes also have to be watched, just in case they get any ideas. If the seigneur perceives a threat to his sovereignty he stretches his neck out and curves his head back so his antlers touch his spine.
And other threats lurk. This periphery bull wandered away, and when I looked at my distant photos I noticed for the first time that he was not alone:
The watcher is certainly a canid, (confirmed by my guide), and probably a wolf, (though it could be a coyote). Since I never did see wolves I am going to claim this as a wolf-sighting! Elk is the preferred food of wolves in the Tetons, and they can tackle both calves, and older or weaker adults.
Bull elk make eerie calls during mating season, known as bugling. Listen here:
The result of these fall liaisons will be calves in late May to mid-June. This calf is now four months old, browsing with its mother.
When her belly is full, she lies down to digest:
They may look stiff-legged, but those hind legs can be used to scratch behind the ear:
As winter closes in, they drift southwards.
Traditionally, the Jackson herd of about 11,000 animals would have moved from the Grand Tetons to lower elevations further south. Now their way is blocked by the town of Jackson at the southern end of the valley, so to prevent winter starvation the National Elk Refuge was created over 100 years ago, in 1912. Controversially, they are given supplemental food during the winter. The migration routes for the Greater Yellowstone elk herds can be seen below: the largest magenta blob, bottom center, is the Refuge.
I am proud to live in a country that once thought to create a National Elk Refuge. Long may we continue to value such places.