Sunday, June 29, 2008

Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains national park: wild, beautiful but dangerous.

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.

Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains national park: wild, beautiful but dangerous.

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.

elk warning sign in the national park

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.


gmagsnohiker said...

Just exactly what was ILLEGAL about what the man was doing?

Smokies Hiker said...

The answer to that question is park regulations state:

Willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces bear or elk, is prohibited.

The people were under 60 feet away from the elk.

Disturbing wildlife carries up to a $5,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail.

Anonymous said...

Even though there is limited wisdom in what this person is saying, he or she sounds a little angry in general. It seems to me that is people like the one who wrote this article that would file the lawsuits and try and pull some devious stuff. People are entitled to these animals, but the wisdom of common sense can go along way. I would say 30 feet would be a reasonable restriction providing the animal/s did not exhibit any aggressive behavior. The thing that needs to be treated ultra-aggressively, is the hunters that would just love to blow this animals brains out. Right now if hunters would be allowed to kill, like in Alaska, all they would have to do is walk up to one and sneeze on the trigger. It sounds to me like the person that wrote this article is a hunter. Educated guess.

Smokies Hiker said...

Anonymous you are very mistaken in your comment.

As the writer of the article I can tell you my primary concern is for the safety of the visitors to the park and the surrounding areas as well as all of the animals within the park.

I have no plans to sue the park and wish to protect the park from any suits as they are presently very underfunded and the last thing that I want to have happen with my personal and corporate financial contributions to the park is see them wasted in frivolous law suits.

I have not hunted in 30 years and would only hunt for my survival if absolutely necessary.

Angry in the article? Yes. I saw a great potential for personal harm to visitors, their safety ignored by volunteers (never saw that before or after this incident), and if anything happens to a visitor the chance for destruction of one of these beautiful animals.

As for your statement about “30 feet would be a reasonable restriction providing the animal/s did not exhibit any aggressive behavior”, do you know what the signs are of aggression?

How much faster can an elk run than a person?

How lethal is an elk’s kick?

Did you know elk have attacked cars in the park?

What their personal safety zone of an elk where if you cross it they will feel threatened? I can tell you it is far further than 50 feet.

Very simply the national park is not a petting zoo. Want to get up close to an animal make sure it is a tame domestic animal not a 1,000 pound wild animal.

Many visitors to the park just don’t understand that must respect its inhabitants for their own and the animals safety - just ask the bike rider who was killed by accident by a deer in Cades Cove. That’s right, a deer.

Now that some visitors that come to the park will be carrying loaded weapons people will act more daring, animals will be shot, maimed and killed and humans will suffer collateral damage.