Once abundant throughout temperate North America, the wapiti was slaughtered for food, leather, and sport and for its canine teeth (used as charms). It was completely exterminated in the E United States and reduced in numbers elsewhere, but since the early 1900s small populations have been introduced in the East. Several varieties now exist, mostly under protection in national parks and wildlife refuges. Two of these are the Rocky Mountain elk, found from N Mexico to central Alberta and used in eastern restoration efforts, and the Roosevelt, or Olympic, elk, found in forests of the Pacific coastal belt from British Columbia to N California.
Related to the wapiti is the dwarf, or tule elk, C. nannodes, a small, light-colored deer of E California. The Old World red deer, C. elaphus, is smaller than the wapiti; males stand about 4 ft (120 cm) at the shoulder and have antlers up to 4 ft (120 cm) long. Its coat is reddish brown. It is found in wooded areas throughout the cold and temperate portions of Eurasia and in N Africa. Several other species of the genus Cervus are found in Asia. The sambar, C. unicolor, is a large brown deer of SE Asia.
Members of the genus Cervus and other deer are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Cervidae.