Elk were originally native to the Smokies and Appalachian area. The last elk in North Carolina is believed to have been seen in the 1700’s and the last elk in Tennessee in the 1800’s. After nearly 200 years, a herd of elk from Land Between the Lakes was reintroduced to the Cataloochee area, in the North Carolina portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 25 elk were introduced to the park in 2001 and another 27 were added in 2002. Since then the elk herd has steadily grown and flourished to the herd of approximately 140 elk! You can view updates from throughout the last 10 years on the National Park’s site. Here is the most recent update, from July 2011:
“Smoky Mountain Elk Herd News
“Since last update there have been a few changes within the elk herd. There have been seven elk mortalities since the last update was released. Four of those were in the Oconaluftee/Cherokee area and three were in Cataloochee. Near Oconaluftee a 1.5 year old bull was struck by a vehicle last October on Rte 441 and another in May along Big Cove Rd. Both bulls were euthanized as a result of their injuries. Last fall bull #106 died in a densely forested patch of land along Acquoni Rd. This animal was weak from a previous infection when it became entangled in grape vines and other vegetation. It was unable to free itself and likely died from exhaustion/asphyxiation. Ten-year old cow #39, known locally for being the elk that lived near the Casino, died of unknown causes in May. In the Cataloochee area cow #49 died of unknown causes, though at 12 years old her age likely played a role, and cow #60 died of stress-related injuries in November.
“Bull #16 was illegally killed by poachers. Near Harmon Den, in an area known as Twelvemile, bull #16 was killed illegally and the head and antlers were removed. #16 was one of the original 25 elk released back into the park in 2001 from Land Between the Lakes, KY. He was a 6 x 7 bull in 2010 that spent most of the year in or around the Twelvemile area only returning to Cataloochee to breed during the fall rut. He was a dominant bull for the past 5-6 years and undoubtedly contributed to calf production within the Cataloochee elk group. The case is still under investigation and anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to call the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission toll free wildlife violations number at 1-800-662-7137.
“In positive news the 2011 calving season is almost over and it has been another good year for herd recruitment. There have been 19 calves born so far this year that have been accounted for, 16 of which have survived. The causes of death for the three that died are unknown. Of the 16 surviving calves, at least 8 are female, 4 are male, and the sex of the other 4 has not yet been determined. There are still a few females that may have produced calves this year that have not been seen since calving season started, so there may be even more calves recruited into the Smoky Mountain elk herd in 2011!
“This is a great time to come and see the newborn calves travelling with their mothers. If you come to see the elk in Cataloochee or Oconaluftee, please remember the following to help you enjoy your visit and keep you and the elk safe.
- “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 the road where it is safe to do so to allow traffic to continue around you.
- Be patient! This allows everyone to have a better experience of the Smoky Mountains, at a Smoky Mountain pace!