Grand Canyon Elk Aggressive During Autumn

Come September, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is alive with the sound of bugling.

Bugling marks the elk mating season at the South Rim of the canyon, which allows visitors up-close (but not too close) encounters with wildlife.

While elk can be a common sight in the park, they weren’t always part of the ecosystem. Rocky Mountain elk were brought to Arizona in the early 1900s, and they migrated north to the park over the decades. 

Approximately 100 elk “have found a home in the park,” says Gregory Holm, the park’s wildlife program manager. The elk wander among the residents, park employees and visitors at the South Rim village and are especially active during elk rut.

Grand Canyon’s Elk Rut Season

Elk rut is the time during which elks reproduce. From late August through October, male elk, called bulls, will try to mate with female elk, called cows. Calves are born in late spring.

Bulls have a lot to do during rut season. In addition to competing with other males and trying to mate with females, they must also protect the group of cows from other bulls.

“Whenever another male comes around, if they don’t scare them away through looking big and sounding mean, they will have fights or interactions,” explains Holm.

As a result, testosterone levels are high, and the bulls can be extremely aggressive.

While the park service cannot stop the elk from rutting, “that’s just natural behavior,” says Holm, it is concerned that people will become caught in the middle of an elk altercation.

For the month of September, the park service is prepared to keep people away from the elk, and elk away from the people.

“We can’t be out there 24/7, but we certainly don’t want elk doing their rutting activity amongst the people,” says Holm. “So if [the elk are] congregating in a certain spot and it’s close to people, then we try to push them away and keep them away.”

A bull elk at the Grand Canyon
A bull elk at the Grand Canyon. NPS photo by Michael Quinn

What to Do If You See an Elk

Visitors to the park during elk rut should take their own precautions to avoid getting caught in a dangerous situation. Park officials urge people to stay at least 100 feet away from elk and to never approach them. Visitors can read more on elk safety in the handouts they receive upon entering the park.

Making sure visitors follow these precautions is tricky, though.

“The males bugle, they make a really loud noise, they strut around and they’re really majestic,” Holm says. “People are attracted to that.”

When tourists see these wild animals roaming the park, they want to take pictures. While they may know the rules, they don’t always follow them.

“And that’s just a park service tradition in some sense,” says Holm.