Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Reintroduction
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Elk Reintroduction in the
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

**Work in Progress 10/10/07

In 2001 the National Park Service started it's plan to reintroduce Elk into the park. The original plan called for about 75 elk to be released in the Cataloochee Valley over a 3 year period. The elk would be closely monitored for five years and at that point they would determine whether to remove the elk, leave the elk as they are or continue  

introducing additional elk.

The last reported elk sighting in Tennessee was in Obion County in 1865. Eliminated by unregulated hunting and the loss of habitat due to influx of new settlers.

The subspecies of elk that once roamed Tennessee, Cervus elaphus canadensis, are now extinct. The closely related Cervus elaphus manitobensis were introduced. Other eastern states that have resident elk herds include Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.


The first release was in 2001, a group of 25 elk that were brought over from the captive herd at Land Between the Lakes National recreation Area on the Tennessee - Kentucky border. This first group was placed in a 3 acre holding pen to reduce the stress of travel before being released into the wild. They were to be set free April 2nd a time chosen to on the spring green-up.

View a video clip of the Elk Release "Right click - save target as".

On Friday June 22 a male elk calve became the first elk to be born in the Smoky Mountains in over 150 years.

The first death in the project occurred on August 8th. It is thought a coyote killed Elk #31, a female calf that was born on July 9. The third known born from the reintroduced herd.

First documented mating occurred on September 25th 2001.

On January 26th 2002, the second elk release was a group of 27. This group came 2,600 miles to get here from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada. Like the previous group, these 19 females and 8 males were first released into the 3 acre holding pen. They will be given several weeks to acclimatize to their new surroundings and will be released from the pen and were eventually released on April 16th 2002 after they have been radio collared. Pregnancy tests showed that 7 of the 9 adult females were pregnant. Three adult females died soon after this years release, two of those were pregnant four year olds. Tests showed no signs of CWD or other contagious diseases.


The third release scheduled for 2003 never happened . Like many other states North Carolina has ban the importation of deer and elk due to fears of Chronic Wasting Disease (cwd). There were at least nine confirmed births in the park this year.
The fourth season there were at least eight documented births in the Smoky Mountains. One of which, a male, died.
The herds overall survival rate has been 82%.  Click here to view a table that includes some basic info about the released elk.
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Links & Resources:
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TWRA Elk Reintroduction Q&A's
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