Elks or wapitis are one of the largest of the deer family. They’re common throughout all forests of the Northern Hemisphere, living everywhere from the United States to Canada to Poland, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
They’re also famous for their distinctive, wide branching horns – a trait only shared by a few other species of deer.
Elk are also extremely social. For example, they can reach herd sizes of up to 400 animals in the summer. In addition, not everyone thinks of the same animal when you say “elk”.
In most of the world, the Eurasian elk which is known as a “moose” in American English, is the most thought-of animal when you say “elk”.
So, if you’re looking for animals similar to elk, moose are a great place to start.
Scientific Name: Alces alces
In Short: Moose are similar in weight and also have massive antlers, although you won’t mistake the two for each other in anything but name.
Moose are the largest species of deer, with some animals standing over 7 feet tall. In addition, with many weighing upwards of 1,400 pounds, these deer outweigh most other wild land mammals in Europe and the United States.
Internationally, moose are known as “elk” or the “Eurasian elk”, leading to significant confusion between the two species.
Both are among the largest deer, both have a similar range (although moose have a wider range, including more of the northern hemisphere), and both have large antlers.
However, moose have a recognizable “hand” pattern in their flat, branching antlers. Here, the flat part of the antler forms a knob that branches out.
Unlike many other deer, moose are also solitary. That’s likely because of their size, which protects them from many predators and means they have to eat more to stay alive.
For that reason, avoiding large groups means that moose can survive, even in icy environments where green foliage and grass are hard to find.
2. Fallow Deer
Scientific Name (genus): Dama
In Short: Fallow deer sport extremely broad, flat antlers that, while different from elk, are very similar.
Fallow deer include two species of deer originating from the Middle East.
The European fallow deer was introduced to Europe and to the United States, where it is now populous, and sometimes treated as livestock.
These deer are medium-sized. Here, males can weigh as much as 330 pounds and stand at a height of about 3 and a half feet at the shoulder.
They often sport significantly long antlers up to 15 inches long and almost 10 inches broad on each side. That means the antlers make up about ¼ of the height of the deer.
Fallow deer are otherwise very similar to the common red deer, which most people know. Fawns have spots that fade out over time. Bucks grow antlers from their first year. However, for the first two, they have a single spike.
The broad, three-spiked antlers they are famous for only start growing after the bucks reach maturity at age 3.
Finally, fallow deer have a wide range of coat covers, including white. That makes them the only deer to commonly have a white coat.
Scientific Name (genus): Rusa
In Short: Rusa are similar to elk but are smaller and with a darker coat. However, the antler formation in some species is very similar.
Rusas include four species of deer native to the Philippines and Indonesia. All four are also threatened, primarily because of habitat loss and increased hunting. However, they closely resemble large North American deer like the elk.
At the same time, with bucks not normally weighing more than 350 pounds, rusas are typically about a third of the size of most elk. They also have darker and shaggier fur, with distinct long hairs as part of their coat.
One species of rusa, the Sambar, is significantly larger. Here, bucks can weigh over 1,200 pounds. That makes them much more similar to elk than their smaller cousins.
However, they are unique in that they can keep spots or a mane as adults.
In addition, rusas sport three-pronged antlers, including a distinctive straight antler up from the head, resembling an antelope. The branching occurs behind that antler.
For Sambar rusas, the antlers can attain lengths of 3.5 feet, compared to the shoulder height of 3-5 feet. This means the antlers can be as tall as the deer.
In addition, the Sambar rusa is the third largest deer.
Rusas have been introduced to some parts of Europe, where they are considered invasive.
4. Red Deer
Scientific Name: Cervus elaphus
In Short: Red deer are so similar to elk that elk were long thought to be a subspecies. Today, we know better, but the similarities remain.
Red deer are one of the most common deer in Europe, where they are protected and conserved to ensure that it remains in the wild.
Red deer originate from Asia but now mostly live in Europe, the Caucasus mountains, western Asia, and Iran. In addition, they’ve been introduced to almost every continent and are sometimes treated as livestock.
These deer are also extremely similar to elks. This is so much so that elks were previously listed as a larger subspecies of red deer. Today, we know that they are their own species.
Red deer are more closely related to Sika deer, which share a common ancestor with Red deer and elks.
Unlike elks, red deer don’t usually grow beyond about 530 pounds. Still, that makes them one of the largest deer in the world.
In addition, their antlers can grow to close to 4 feet in length – or only slightly smaller than the deer at shoulder height.
There are also multiple subspecies of red deer, some of which are as little as half the size.
5. Sika Deer
Scientific Name: Cervus nippon
In Short: The Sika deer is one of the closest living relatives to the elk, but sports taller, branching antlers instead of wide antlers.
The sika deer or spotted deer is a medium-sized species of deer native to East Asia. Today, they’ve been introduced to eastern Europe, Russia, and Japan, and are invasive in the latter.
These deer are also distinctive in several ways. For example, they retain their spots after adulthood. This means you can see spotted males with full antlers.
In addition, they’re extremely vocal, with more than 10 distinct sounds associated with them. Their antlers also add branches as they age, meaning young deer start with no branching and end up in many-pronged racks.
Finally, male sika deer grow a mane or ruff on their neck during mating season. That can make them stand out, despite the fact that they otherwise look exactly like more common deer.
However, in size, behavior, and temperament, they are very similar if slightly smaller than the red deer and the elk.
6. Thorold’s Deer
Scientific Name: Cervus albirostris
In Short: With similar antlers and body size, Thorold’s deer is easy to mistake for an elk.
Thorold’s deer is a large deer endemic to the Tibetan Plateau, and now vulnerable to extinction.
The deer, which looks like a cross between a mule deer and an elk, sports a dark coat and wide branching antlers. It is those antlers that most resemble an elk, although most elk have more prongs.
In addition, Thorold’s deer are similar to elk in size. For example, large males often exceed 500 pounds. However, the largest ones never get close to the largest elk.
The Thorold’s deer is also significantly darker than most other deer. Most have gray-brown fur, similar in color to a mouse or a mule.
However, they often have the reddish brown seen on other deer on the underbelly, where other deer have white patches.
Scientific Name: Elaphurus davidianus
In Short: Milus are not closely related to elk but they are strikingly similar from a distance thanks to similar horns in the winter.
Milus, also known as Père David’s deer, are deer native to China.
These deer are unique in that they grow the main antler prongs backwards, giving the appearance of a two-pronged antler from the front. In addition, Milu grows two sets of antlers per year, with a heavier and larger set in the summer.
Milu antlers are also significantly broader than elk. In addition, they aren’t as wide, which means you’re unlikely to mistake the two deer for each other if you know them.
With an average shoulder height of about 3.9 feet and weights of about 400 pounds, milus are smaller than many elk.
These deer were also hunted almost to extinction but were reintroduced to China. The deer can also produce fertile crossbreeds with red deer, which means it may be reclassified as a subspecies of the European deer.
Scientific Name: Rangifer tarandus
In Short: Caribous or reindeer are more likely to be mistaken for moose or Eurasian Elk, but they have a lot in common with American Elk as well.
Caribous are one of the most common deer in the world, with populations of well over 2 million. These deer mostly live in the northern hemisphere, where they’re kept for meat and transportation in Siberia, Russia, and even parts of Canada and the U.S.
Reindeer are often confused with Moose or Eurasian Elk thanks to similar broad antlers.
However, they stand out, as females have antlers and don’t shed them in the winter. Not all females will have antlers and some will have only one antler, though.
Reindeer are also traditionally classified as a single species. However, they may consist of as many as 8 different species.
For example, the Svalbard reindeer, which is normally not more than 200 pounds, versus the boreal woodland caribou, which can weigh close to 500 pounds.
Some caribou species also sport a ruff, sometimes in a different color than the rest of their body. Otherwise, they look very similar to moose and share many similarities with elks.
Elk are most similar to the red deer and the Sitka deer. However, they’re extremely close to many other types of deer. On the other hand, very few deer have the same antler architecture, meaning you can almost always tell what kind of deer you’re looking at from the antlers.