Elk have been extinct in the Tennessee and North Carolina Smoky Mountains for more than 100 years, but thanks to private funding Elk have been reintroduced in the Great Smoky Mountain national park in 2001.
These majestic animals were reintroduced into the Cataloochee section of the Great Smoky Mountain national park in North Carolina near Maggie Valley, but since Elk don't understand park boundaries they have wandered out of the safety of Cataloochee's valleys and fields and have spread into other areas of North Carolina and Tennessee.
Elk can commonly be seen along the roadside near the construction area on Big Cove Road in Cherokee North Carolina and north of the Blue Ridge Parkway along the side of the road on 441 Newfound Gap Road by the Oconaluftee visitor center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I have been told that the elk have now been spotted as far away as the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park a short walking distance from the city limits of Gatlinburg Tennessee.
Elk are very large unpredictable wild animals that can easily seriously injure or kill someone without warning. Elk have no concept of park borders nor do they understand that foolish people walking up close to them with young children are offering no real threat to these wild animals, they just want to take a picture of them.
This picture above shows 2 adults walking within 50 feet of an elk lying down in the grass off Newfound Gap Road yesterday. This is the time of year when young elk calves have been just been born and are commonly hidden in grass away from predators. If there is an elk calf in the grass near this bull elk, anyone approaching the young calve could have been killed.
Since this Elk is a male and the calves are generally in the Cataloochee valleys and hills chances are there are no calves in the grass near Newfound Gap Road but these visitors had no idea of the elks habit.
The wife of the man on the left was excusing her husbands illegal and extremely foolish behavior claiming there are no posted warnings. When she was advised by me of the danger her children and her husband are in and the fact that her husband can be fined, she never asked her husband or children to back away from the Elk. She also told me what he was doing was ok because the park rangers who just arrived did not tell her husband what he was doing was wrong.
There were in fact no park rangers there but a male and female park volunteer than just got off work at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. They just stood there at the roadside and watched as people walked down off the roadside and went into the field to approach the wild animal.
When showing this and other photographs which clearly showed how close these park visitors were to the Elk to the volunteer he seemed disinterested.
As the traffic situation for the elk jam was getting worse I asked the park volunteer to radio or call in order to get an enforcement officer to the scene to protect the park visitors from their foolish behavior and work on keeping traffic flowing. He begrudgingly complied.
The Great Smoky Mountains national park Elk population has more than doubled since their reintroduction and unless better management practice are put in place and people behave responsibly - people with get injured if not die as a result of a man versus elk encounter.
It is time that the public and the park service wake up. The elk do belong in the park - this was their territory, and we as guests of the national park must behave in a personally responsible manor to protect ourselves for our own and the elks safety.
As for Elk outside of the park, this will become a more serious issue as time goes on and there will be elk versus traffic and elk versus human encounters increase along with the elk population expansion.
The area that the elk were to be introduced in needed to be set up as to safely contain the elk via physical barriers and the lack of such barriers will bite the National Park Service in the butt when the wrongful death and wrongful injury lawsuits start to occur.