We had such a great reaction to our posting about the elk herd last year, that we were looking forward to updating you on this year’s progress! After spending about 9 years as an experimental project, the elk herd is now believed to be healthy and growing enough to be moved into a more permanent phase!
The Park is now shifting its focus to developing a long-term management strategy. There are two basic ways to go about this. They can continue to collect and analyze data the same ways they did throughout the experimental phase. This includes intensive research and monitoring, and although it yields plenty of data, it is fairly invasive to the animals. Ideally they could move to a more selective plan that will adapt and gather information which is more currently relevant and necessary! You can view the proposed plans on the Park’s website!
Some sad news… in November of 2009, Elk Bull #21 was shot by a poacher in the Cataloochee Valley. This was a highly visible bull who “would often be seen near the Ranger Station or Palmer House in Cataloochee and provided a lot of bugling and fighting that crowds could witness during the fall rut.” The poacher pled guilty, and had his gun seized, and was sentenced to 150 days in prison, and a fine of $8,384 in restitution costs. He has also had his hunting license taken away for the next two years and been banned from not only the Smoky Mountain National Park, but every National Park, for two years!
On a lighter note, there has only been one elk fatality in 2010, and it was a natural death. Elk Cow #93, a 4-year old female with a history of health problems, passed away near the Rough Fork trail head in Cataloochee. While it is always hard to lose one of the elk, especially with the herd still being small, this cow already had a condition which prevented her from being able to bear calves, and since it was the only death of 2010, this is a good sign!
Far exceeding the one and only fatality of the year, were the 25 calves birthed this year! This is 8 more than last year, and shows that the herd is now growing a bit faster since more and more of the females are reaching calf-bearing age. Of the 25 calves born, 17 of these can be tracked by Park personnel, and are all confirmed to have survived so far! No deaths have been reported, so as far as we know, they are all still growing and enjoying their brand new lives!
If you come to the Smoky Mountains to view elk this fall, please remember a few things to help make your visit a more enjoyable and safe one.
Bring binoculars and zoom lenses. This allows for great viewing and photos from a safe distance.
Be very mindful of your food scraps and please clean up after yourself. This helps eliminate the chances of an elk becoming conditioned to human food, which usually leads to the demise of the animal.
Stay in or near your vehicle when the elk are out, and please pull off to the side of the road to allow traffic to continue around you.
Be patient! This allows everyone to have a better experience of Cataloochee, at a Cataloochee pace!
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