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 2012:
“Smoky Mountain Elk Herd News
“After several years of high reproduction and survival, the park’s elk herd has had a below average year. Known adult elk mortality has averaged about 4 animals per year since the beginning of the project with slight increases as the herd continued to grow. As of July there have already been 8 documented adult elk mortalities in and around the park. The mortalities have consisted of 5 males and 3 females of the following causes:
• 3 vehicle collisions resulting in euthanasia because of injuries
• 1 from brainworm, a parasitic worm found the Southeast
• 1 euthanasia due to severe infection from a weakened immune system
• 3 illegally killed just outside of Park boundaries
The park’s elk herd is still small and its future growth is variable depending on recruitment and survival rates across time. This year’s survival data will be added to the data from the previous 10 years and the population models will be reanalyzed. The current elk population in western North Carolina is believed to be approximately 140 animals, counting those elk both inside and outside of national park boundaries.
In February of 2011, a large bull elk was illegally killed near Harmon Den, outside of park boundaries. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the case in cooperation with park staff. Three individuals have recently been charged with illegal possession of this elk’s antlers but there have been no poaching charges to date. Elk are classified as a species of special concern in North Carolina, so killing elk or acquiring any part of an elk is illegal in the state.
The case of three elk that were illegally shot and killed this year on private property is still under investigation and is being handled by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in cooperation with park staff. The poaching occurred on May 17 in the Mount Sterling area near Waterville, and nothing was removed from the animals. These elk consisted of one young male and two adult females, one of which was pregnant. Recently, the NC Wildlife Federation has offered a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible.
This blog is sponsored by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg. For more info. on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg area.