Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States. They were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. The last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700s. In Tennessee, the last elk was killed in the mid-1800s. By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting groups and other conservation organizations became concerned the species was headed for extinction.
A primary mission of the National Park Service is to preserve native plants and animals on lands it manages. In cases where native species have been eliminated from park lands, the National Park Service may choose to reintroduce them. Reintroduction of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 2001 when 25 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. In 2002, the park imported another 27 animals.
Learn more about elk! How big do they get? What do they eat? What is rut?
Warning! Elk are large animals--larger than the park's black bears--and can be dangerous. Female elk with calves have charged people in defense of their offspring. Males (bulls) may perceive people as challengers to their domain and charge. The best way to avoid these hazards is to keep your distance.
Never touch or move elk calves. Though they may appear to be orphaned, chances are their mother is nearby. Cows frequently leave their newborn calves while they go off to feed. A calf's natural defense is to lie down and remain still. The same is true for white-tailed deer fawns.
Did You Know?
More than 240 species of birds have been found in the park. Sixty species are year-round residents. Nearly 120 species breed in the park, including 52 species from the neo-tropics. Many other species use the park as an important stopover and foraging area during their semiannual migration.