Cervus elaphus nelsoni

Common Name(s)

Wapiti, elk




Wapiti occur at high elevation (in New Zealand in recently glaciated mountain landscape) in semiopen forest (silver beech, mountain beech, rimu and southern rata) and on subalpine scrub and tussock grassland. They are herbivorous browser and grazer, and feed on various leaves and twigs of woody plants (e.g. broadleaf, kamahi, lancewood and beech spp.), sedges and grasses with a small amount of bark, ferns, lichens and moss.


Wapiti are the largest round-antlered deer. They have a light brownish-grey (more tawny in summer) body with a dark brown/black head, neck and legs (most striking in males in winter). Antlers in mature male have usually more than 10 sharp-pointed prongs (points), female may produce antlers only on rare occasions (associated with hormone imbalance).

Similar Species

Red deer (Cervus elaphus scoticus), Sika deer (Cervus nippon), Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor unicolor), Rusa deer (Cervus timorensis), Axis deer (Axis axis), Fallow deer (Dama dama dama), White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus borealis)and hybrids between some of these species

Threat To Plants

Browsing and grazing of palatable species (they are also inclined to bark-chew), which my alter species regeneration and vegetation composition. When occurring in large numbers they will destroy the understorey of native forest by overbrowsing, grazing, bark stripping and trampling, which consecutively will also increases soil erosion and therefore also the fertility of the site.


From Sutherland Sound and Lake Te Anau (north) to Charles Sound and Doon Balley (south).


Weight: 200-450kg; acominal height: 120-150cm

Year Introduced

1905 (George Sound)

Reason For Introduction

Food and game

Colonisation History

First introduced to New Zealand at George Sound (Fiordland) in March 1905 (the first attempt to establish them in the 1870s was unsuccessful) and by 1925 they had colonised an area of about 100 km2. Till then they have been inhabiting most of the area between the west coast and Lake Te Anau.