Have you ever seen Smoky Mountain Bull ELK?!

bull elk

“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. SmokyMountains_Elk

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 poundscopper colored elk
  • 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


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Elk CalfOverall, wildlife biologists at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are delighted with the results of the experimental elk reintroduction in the Smokies.  Since 52 elk were released in Cataloochee Valley during 2001 and 2002, the park’s population has grown to nearly 100.

However, certain individual elk do occasionally cause Park biologists some consternation.  A prime example would be bull elk #81.

Bull ElkAlthough Park staff always expected and hoped the elk herd would disperse, bull elk #81 has taken range expansion to an extreme.

Elk #81 has been making extended forays across the mountain range for four consecutive years now.  These sojourns have included visits to Cosby, TN and the Greenbrier area of the Park near Gatlinburg, TN.Wildlife abounds in Gatlinburg! Residents of rural areas outside the park have excitedly communicated with the park staff as to #81’s latest wanderings.

A family near Newport, TN  looked out their back window to discover that a bull had gotten his antlers tangled in chains of their children’s swing set.  Rangers had to tranquilize the 600 pound animal and physically disentangle  from the chains to prevent injury.  The elk population is growing!Rangers then kindly gave him a lift back to Cataloochee Valley.

Park biologists believe the elk population will continue to gradually go.  And, there are more female elk of reproductive age now than atBull Elk antlers can grow to 5' wide! any time since the species was reintroduced to the Park.  Females generally give birth to one calf every year, usually in early June.  In 2008, at least 17 calves were born to Park cows.

Park officials don’t expect the elk population to expand too rapidly.  They believe predation on elk by black bears will ultimately restrict population growth.  They do expect the hear to continue to spread, though.  In fact, when #81 struck out from Cataloochee Valley earlier in 2009, he took a sidekick along with him–bull #105.

 ELK FACTS:Elk are herbivores!

  Adult males weigh 600 – 700 lbs, Cows 500 lbs.
Males have antlers that may reach a width of 5′.
Elk diet consists of grass, acorns, bark, leaves & buds.
Natural predators include coyotes and bobcats–while black bears may kill young, sick, or injured elk.
Elk calves weigh about 35 lbs. when born & stand in minutes.

Special thanks to the Smokies Guide, the official newspaper of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for providing the elk update.

Are you hoping to have a wildlife encounter during your vacations?  These cabins have a history of wildlife encounters–mostly bears:

Bears in the Hot Tub! Sunset Ridge (bears in the trees)

Bear’s Den (bears stole a picnic lunch)

Chipmunk Haven (bears —see picture left)

Riverhaven (raccoons)

At the Top (bears in the trees)

Hillbilly Hilton (raccoons)

Water’s Edge (wild hogs)


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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.