Put Yer Dukes Up!

Though established dramatically, power in the herd is a matter of mutual consent

Not everyone knows this (I didn’t!), but for most of the year, cows are the boss among coastal elk. Only in the fall during the rut do the big bulls appear and briefly take charge of the herd. Thus as the cavalcade of first-year calves and immature cows and bulls-to-be of the 50-plus member herd look for leadership, the elder cows must sort out which among them will take charge.

And what a spectacle it is as they establish dominance — a fully grown cow with her ears laid back and standing on her hind legs towers hooves-to-nose over 10 feet tall — a most imposing sight indeed. And while there is plenty of power in those flailing hooves, to be sure, damaging contact is seldom made, the contest concludes in mere moments, and grudges don’t endure. The herd takes note of the victor, and as the second mock bout in the clip above seems to suggest, junior members are inspired to imitate, and begin practice to someday take a shot themselves at leading the herd.

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