Time to Talk ‘Antlers’

A few weeks ago, we participated in Parks Day at the S.S. Klondike. It was a great day and a lot of fun. There was music, games, prizes and exhibits (thanks to Parks Canada for inviting us).

In our booth, the Preserve had furs, antlers and horns. They were popular and visitor after visitor came to lift, or try to lift, the antlers. Wide-eyed and determined, adults and children alike were amazed by the size and weight of the caribou, moose and elk antlers.

It is very difficult to imagine what it must be like to carry such a heavy burden. I saw more than one person rub their neck just imagining.

It was really fun to talk “antlers” with our visitors. Moose antlers are pretty unique and easy to identify, but fewer were able to differentiate between the caribou and elk antlers.

For future reference, caribou antlers have two separate sets of points with the lower points resembling a shovel; elk antlers have many tines growing off a single, main beam. Also interesting: caribou are the ones where both male and females grow antlers.

I say that confidently, now, but I have to admit, prior to moving to the Yukon, I did not pay that much attention to antlers. True, I have an uncle with a trophy room in his house that absolutely fascinated me as a child, but, by and large, where I come from, “nice rack” carries an entirely different meaning.

They get my attention, now, though, and this time of year it is hard not to be amazed. Throughout the preserve, caribou, elk, moose and mule deer are growing antlers at an unbelievable rate. Every day, it seems, they grow another inch or two, and each set is unique.

In talking with people, it was obvious that the size and speed in which the antlers grow is undeniably impressive, but the fact that they simply drop off and grow again seems to be the real surprise.

In some ways I can understand that; we rarely see photos of males without their antlers and I dare say it is surprising when we do. I was certainly surprised when I saw my first moose antler-less. It was also a shock to see my first elk with just one antler, nothing more than a brief interlude before the second fell, but nevertheless interesting.

Over the next several weeks, it will continue to be pretty fascinating around the preserve. The antlers will continue to grow and then they will harden. The velvet that protects and nourishes the soft antlers will get rubbed off and the antler itself polished against tree trunks and shrubs.

Later this winter and into spring, the blood vessels will close, causing the skin to dry up and peel off. This will make it seem like the antlers have, quite simply, fallen off and it will not be long before the process to grow new ones begins again.

Definitely something to be amazed by.

Krista Prochazka loved the Yukon Wildlife Preserve so much that she made her family move to the Yukon to become executive director of the preserve. Contact her at [email protected]

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