A bull elk seen the last several years roaming the haunts of northern Minnesota near the Canadian border passed away in March 2023. Seeking to determine its age, wildlife officials sent tooth samples to a lab in Montana. The results showed it was 20 years of age, “very old” according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“Something 20 years old, that’s really getting up there,” Scott Laudenslager, DNR area wildlife manager, told the Grand Forks Herald.
Several past articles from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle magazine profiled Matson’s Laboratory in Manhattan, Montana, an outfit that uses cementum analysis from animal’s teeth to accurately age scores of wildlife species worldwide. Lab owner Carolyn Nistler said out of tens of thousands of elk the lab aged over the past 50 years, most hunter harvests are four to six years old on average. And though rare, it is not unheard of to see a 20-year-old elk. The oldest elk aged by the lab was a 32-year-old cow elk from Pennsylvania.
As for the Minnesota elk, a necropsy determined no particular cause of death, though it did rule out chronic wasting disease.
“He was emaciated and that kind of thing, but no real smoking gun,” Laudenslager told the Grand Forks Herald. “Probably old age more than anything.”
(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)