Elk Progress Report, July 2011
Feature Topic: NC Elk, A Decade Later
In early 2001 the first elk set foot into Great Smoky Mountains National Park since the turn of the nineteenth century. This was the beginning of an experiment to see if an elk herd could sustain itself in the area after about a 200-year absence. Ten years later the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding land is home to approximately 140 elk, and the answer to that original question seems to be, yes, the elk can once again call this part of the Appalachians home.
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.
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.