Male tule elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes) are susceptible to high rates of antler breakage in Owens Valley, California. We hypothesized that a mineral deficiency in the diet predisposed male elk to antler breakage. We analyzed elk antler, liver, and forage samples to identify mineral imbalances. We compared the mineral content of livers and antlers from elk in Owens Valley to samples taken from tule elk at Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, a population experiencing normal rates (<5%) of antler breakage. Antler and liver samples were collected from 1989 to 1993, and in 2002, and were tested for calcium (Ca), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), phosphorus (P), sulfur (S), and zinc (Zn). Mineral levels from antler and liver samples were compared to reference values established for elk and deer. We also compared the mineral content of elk forage in Owens Valley, collected in 2002–03, to dietary reference values established for cattle. In antlers, Ca, Fe, and Mg levels were higher in Owens Valley elk than in Grizzly Island elk, although all mineral levels were lower than reference values established for deer antlers. In liver samples, Cu levels from elk in Owens Valley were lower than those from Grizzly Island and lower than minimum reference values; liver Ca and Mo levels were higher in elk from Owens Valley than in those from Grizzly Island. Compared to reference values, elk forage in Owens Valley had high levels of Ca and Mo, and low levels of Cu, P, and Zn. Mineral analyses from antlers, livers, and forage suggest that tule elk in the Owens Valley are Cu and/or P deficient. High levels of Mo and Ca may exacerbate Cu and P deficiencies, respectively. Bone fragility is a symptom of both deficiencies, and an imbalance in Cu, P, or a combination of both, may predispose male tule elk in the Owens Valley to antler breakage.
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Vol. 43 • No. 1