“Willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces elk, is illegal in the park. Violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest. Do not enter fields to view elk-remain by the roadside and use binoculars, telephoto lens, or a spotting scope to view the animals.”- Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service
Elk can also be dangerous. Female elk with calves have been known to charge people in defense to their young. Male elk have also been known to charge people if they perceive them as a threat to their domain. Please keep your distance to avoid these hazards.
History of Elk in the park
At one time, elk inhabited the southern Appalachian mountains, but unfortunately, they were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. The last elk seen in North Carolina was in the late 1700s when it was killed. The last elk was killed in Tennessee in the mid 1800s. By 1900, conservation organizations became concerned that the species would soon become extinct. In cases where a species has been eliminated from the area, the National Park service can choose to reintroduce them. In 2001 the Great Smoky Mountains National Park service began to reintroduce elk to the park. Twenty-five elk were brought here from the Land Between the Lakes National Reservation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border.
Fun Facts about Elk
- Adult male elk are known as “bulls” and weigh between 600 and 700 pounds
- Adult female elk are known as “cows” and weigh about 500 pounds
- Adults can be 7 to 10 feet long and stand 4.5 to 5 feet at shoulder length
- Adult males have antlers that can grow up to five feet
- Elk can live up to 15 years
- Elk are vegetarian and eat grasses, forbs, acorns, bark, leaves and buds from shrubs and trees
- Newborn elk weigh about 35 pounds and can stand within minutes of birth
- In early spring, elk shed their antlers and immediately begin growing new ones
- In late spring, elk shed their winter coats and begin to grow beautiful copper-colored, one-layer coats
- The fall breeding season is known as “rut”
- Elk can be seen in the Cataloochee Valley and in the field beside the Oconalufee Visitors Center