Elk are found in North America and Asia. The name “elk” has a long and convoluted history. Originally referring to Alces alces (the animal now called “moose” in North America), once it became extinct in the British Isles, the word “elk” began to refer to any large deer.
When Cervus canadensis was encountered by European settlers in North America, it was called “elk”, as it was the largest deer they encountered, as Alces alces is not found in Virginia where early settlers landed. Alces alces was then called “moose”, a word that comes from Algonquian languages of indigenous North American peoples. It means “he strips off”, referring to the animal’s method of eating bark off of trees.
The red deer of Europe, until fairly recently, was considered to be the same species as the elk. However, genetic studies in the late 1990s confirmed that they were two separate species.