There is no such thing as a normal day for Dr. Oakley and this week’s episode, Bull Steam Ahead proves it. It’s the end of the summer in the Yukon and time for many animals to go into rut. For the most part, the process takes care of itself in the wild–but a few of Dr. Oakley’s charges are getting off to a slow start. Wayne Grove’s elk bulls should be showing signs of rut by bugling and sparring, yet none of them are exhibiting any of the normal signs. This could be a real problem. Not having any elk calves could severely impact Wayne’s income for the year.
The Love Lives of Elk
Adult elk live in single-sex groups for most of the year, so Wayne’s male elk are all housed together. Elk males are mature at 24 to 30 months of age, so the whole herd should exhibit signs of increased testosterone as they approach the rut. Bulls that are about to rut will bellow at one another and posture. The will also spar with their antlers, dig holes in the ground and urinate on themselves. The urine is used as cologne, soaking into their hair and attracting nearby cows.
Bulls also have a very distinct call that attracts females called bugling. The elk will bugle most commonly early and late in the day. The sound travels for miles and females are attracted to the males the bugle the loudest and the most. Older male elk may keep an entire harem of female elks, driving other males away. Wayne Grove’s bulls aren’t doing any of these things. Instead, they are placidly chewing their cud.
Female elk have a very short estrus cycle. They are only able to become impregnated for one or two days, so males have a short window to produce offspring. A male will attempt to mate usually a dozen or more times. By the autumn of their second year, females are able to reproduce and gestate for 240 to 262 days. Elk cows have one and, very rarely, two offspring. The calves weigh between 15 and 16 kilograms (33 and 35 lb). Elk calves can be the size of adult white-tailed deer by the time they are six-month-old.
However, if Dr. Oakley doesn’t figure out why Wayne Grove’s elk aren’t interested in females, there aren’t going to be any calves. The first step is to give them a thorough examination, which means checking all six of the males’ scrotums. Elk is one of the largest species of deer in the world and can be very dangerous at any time of the year, but this is especially true during the rut.
Even using a squeeze to secure them during the exam, “checking under their hood” is no easy proposition. Dr. Oakley measures all the bulls’ scrotums and confirms Wayne’s concern. The exams show that the elk are definitely not showing the signs of becoming hormonally prepared for the rut.
Dr. Oakley can’t find anything obviously wrong with the elk, so all they can do is hope that the season is just coming late this year. She is hopeful though. “They got felt up and everybody is happy,” jokes Dr. Oakley, “If that doesn’t get them to rut nothing will.” And when she returns for the follow up exam, she discovers that she just might have been right.
Tune in to this week’s episode Dr. Oakley Yukon Vet: Bull Steam Ahead on Saturday December 20 9 PM et/pt and find out if the elk ever get in the mood for love.