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How Many Elk Can Live in This Forest? (PEEC)

TopicHabitat and Management - General
Laboratory and Hands-on Activities - Physical Activity
Wildlife - Mammals
Participants become “elk” and look for food in this active simulation.
Recommended SettingOutdoor classroom
LocationPonca Elk Education Center, Ponca, AR
Education Program Coordinator, 870-861-2432
Duration30 - 45 minutes
Suggested Number of Participants10 - 40
  • Describe the food needs of elk.
  • Identify a limiting factor.
Key Terms*




Limiting factor


Food token cards

Large playing field

One baggie per participant

Rope or flag tape


All animals, including elk, have basic needs their habitat must provide. These needs include food, water, shelter and space.

  1. Provide the following information:
    • All animals, including elk, have basic needs their habitat must provide: food, water, shelter and space. They are equally important and must be available to meet the animals’ needs.
    • When one component is unavailable or scarce, it is a limiting factor because it limits the species’ ability to survive in that habitat.
    • Disease, predation, drought, pollution, land development, hunting and poaching are limiting factors.
    • The average adult elk weighs more than 500 pounds and eats about 15 pounds of feed per day in the spring, summer and fall. They eat about 10 pounds of food per day in the winter.
    • The kinds of plants and amount elk eat vary with different areas of the country. In spring and summer, elk eat grasses and small flowering plants called forbs. In the fall, elk primarily eat grasses and the woody parts of plants called browse. In winter, elk eat more browse because it is readily available. Browse is difficult to chew, so an elk eats fewer pounds of food in the winter than other times of the year.
  2. Prior to play, scatter the food token cards on the playing field.
  3. Using a rope or flag tape, mark one side of the area as the starting line.
  4. Give each player a baggie. This will represent the participant’s shelter.
  5. Line the participants up on the starting line, leaving their baggies between their feet on the ground.
  6. Explain that they are elk looking for food and that their baggies represent their shelter.
  7. Do not tell them what the colors, letter and numbers on the token cards represent. Tell them only that the cards represent kinds of elk food.
  8. Since elk eat different kinds of food at different times of the year, participants should gather different colored tokens to represent a variety of food.
  9. Explain that they must walk into the “forest” because elk do not run down their food, they graze for it.
  10. When participants find a colored square, they should pick it up and return it to their baggie (shelter) before picking up another colored square. (Elk would actually eat food as they find it.)
  11. After participants understand what they are to do, have them gather food.
  12. When all the colored tokens have been picked up, the food gathering is over. Ask them to pick up their baggies and return to class.
  13. Explain what the colors and numbers represent. Ask each participant to add up the total pounds of food he or she gathered and write the amount on his or her baggie.
  • Introduce predators to the activity.
  • Have an “injured” elk that must hop on one leg or blindfold an elk.
  • Each elk needs 5,000 pounds (2,250 kg) a year to survive. Which elk survived?
  • Is there enough to feed all the elk?

Browse – (noun) parts of woody plants; (verb) feeding behavior of deer when selecting foods

Forb – broadleaf herb other than a grass, especially one growing in a field, prairie or meadow

Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs

Limiting factors – elements that affect the amount of wildlife a habitat can sustain, including food, water, space, predators, disease and pollution