A Primal Experience

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"It sounded like what I imagine a dinosaur would sound like - incredibly loud and primal." That's how WRAL Meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner described her recent encounter with a herd of elk in the North Carolina mountains.

Wait a minute! Yes, we've heard stories of elk roaming the mountains 200 years ago but those animals were wiped out by hunters and loss of habitat. Well, the elk population is making a Tar Heel comeback thanks to an experimental program in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Seven years ago 26 elk from the Tennessee-Kentucky border area were introduced in the Cataloochee Valley region of GSMNP. 27 more were added later and today the herd is described as steady and healthy and 100 head strong.

It is a work in progress. Black bears in the area have been relocated to other areas of the park to help the group of elk flourish. Bears are natural predators of elk calves. Elk program leaders have also had to deal with Chronic Wasting Disease which can decimate a herd . So far they have been successful at keeping this neurological disease at bay.

Elizabeth and her family were fascinated with the large group of elk they found roaming the park some 20 miles north of Waynesville: “The bugling, the bellowing and the boisterous nature of these huge creatures is quite entertaining.” How huge? Well, the average bull will tip the scales at 700 lbs. An adult cow elk will grow to weigh more than 500 lbs. Elizabeth said her family was lucky. They saw the herd during mating season which is just wrapping up.

Have any of you ever seen elk in NC? If so please share your experiences. Obviously these animals made an impact on early settlers who named creeks, towns and mountains after elk. I checked William S. Powell’s North Carolina Gazetteer and found the following : Elk Creek, Elk Mountain, Elk Park, Elk River, Elkton, Elkin, Elks Crossroads just to name a few.

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