Maggie Valley NC Hotel - Lodging in the Smoky Mountains at the Abbey Inn Motel

hotel motel in Maggie Valley in the Smoky Mountains near the Blue Ridge

RETURN OF THE ELK

Experimental release

The experimental release of elk into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in February, 2001 with the importation of 25 elk.  In 2003, the Park Service imported another 17 animals.  All elk are radio-collared and will be monitored during the five year experimental phase of the project.  If the animals threathen park resources or create significant conflicts with park visitors, the program may be halted.

Background

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 1700's. In Tennessee, the last elk was killed in the mid-1800's. By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting groups and other conservation organizations became concerned that the species was headed for extinction

Viewing Elk

The best times to view elk are usually early in the morning and late evening.  Elk may also be active on cloudy days and before or after storms.  Enjoy elk at a distance, using binoculars or a spotting scope for a close-up view.  Approaching wildlife too closely causes them to expand crucial energy unnecessarily and can cause real harm.  If you approach an animal so closely that it stops feeding, changes direction of travel, or otherwise alters its behavior, YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!

Seasons of the Elk

Spring:   Most elk shed their antlers in March.  The antlers, which are rich in calcium, are quickly eaten by rodents and other animals. (It's illegal to remove antlers from the park.)  After they have shed their antlers, elk immediately begin growing new ones.  In the late spring, elk shed their winter coats and start growing sleek, copper colored, one layer summer coats.

Summer: Most calves are born in June.  Male elk roll in mud wallows to keep cool and avoid insect pests.  By August, elk antlers are full grown and have shed their "velvet". Calves have lost their spots by summer's end.

Fall: Male elk make their legendary bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract cows. Their calls can be heard a mile or more away.  Large bulls use their antlers to intimidate and spar with other males. Most encounters are ritualistic and involve little physical contact. Only occasionally do conflicts result in serious injuries to one of the combatants.  During the "rut" in September and early October, dominant bulls gather and breed with harems of up to 20 cows.

Winter: Elk wear a two-layer coat during the colder months.  Long guard hairs on the top repel water and a soft, wooly underfur keeps them warm.  Elk may move from the high country to valleys to feed.

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Elk Facts

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Size: Adult males weigh an average of 600-700 pounds.  Cows average 500 pounds.  Adults are 7-10 feet long from nose to tail and stand 4 1/2 to 5 feet tall at the shoulder. Adult males have antlers that may reach 5 feet.

Diet: Grasses, forbs, acorns, bark, leaves, and buds.

Predators: Coyotes, bobcats and black bears may kill young, sick or injured elk.  grey wolves and mountain lions, both of which have been extirpated from the Great Smoky Mountains, are successful predators of elk elsewhere.

Offspring: Cows usually give birth to only one calf per year. Newborns weigh about 35 pounds.  They can stand within minutes of birth, and calf and cow usually rejoin the herd within a couple of weeks.  Calves nurse from one to seven months.  Females are ready to breed in the second autumn of their lives.

Life Span Elk can live as long as 15 years.

Senses: Elk have an acute sense of smell and excellent eyesight.

Warning

Elk are large animals--larger than any of the park's black bears--and can be dangerous.  Females elk with calves have charged people in defense of their offspring. Males may perceive people as challengers to their domain and charge. So keep your distance!

Never touch or move elk calves.  Thought they may appear to be orphaned, chances are their mother is nearby.  Cows often 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.

The use of spotlights, elk bugles, and other wildlife calls is illegal in the national park, It is also illegal to remove ant antlers or other elk parts from the park. Never feed elk or other wildlife or bait them for closer observation.  Feeding park wildlife is strictly forbidden by law and almost always leads to the animal's demise.  It also increases danger to other park visitors.

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NOTE:  TO DATE, SEVERAL NEW CALVES HAVE BEEN BORN, AND THE ELK POPULATION IS GROWING NICELY

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