Elk's diet consists
mainly of grasses, wildflowers, herbs, acorns, tree bark, leaves, and buds
from shrubs and trees. They have an
acute sense of smell and excellent eyesight during their typical life span
of 10 - 15 years.
Elk cows average
one calf per year. The calves weigh about 35 pounds at birth and can stand
within minutes. Calves nurse for one to seven months and are ready to
breed in the second autumn of their lives.
In early spring most elk shed their
antlers, which immediately begin to grow again. The antlers, rich in calcium, are
quickly eaten by rodents and other animals. Later in the spring, elk shed their winter coats and start growing sleek,
copper-colored, one-layer summer coats.
the summer, most of the calves are born and have lost their spots,
and the antlers are full grown and have already shed their
fall arrives, male elk make their legendary bugling calls to challenge other
bulls and attract cows.
Large bulls use their antlers to intimidate and spar with other males.
sparring is ritualistic, however occasional conflicts result in serious injuries to one or more
combatants. During September and early October,
dominant bulls breed with harems of up to 20 cows.
As winter arrives, elk
grow a two-layer coat with long hairs on the top that repel water and a soft, wooly
under-lining that helps insulate them.
Elk may move from the high country to valleys to feed. Elk may travel
beyond the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, however most non-cropland adjacent to the park
is designated as an elk buffer zone. Elk that travel past the buffer zone,
will be removed by the National
Park Service or state wildlife agencies.
All elk were radio
collared and monitored during the five-year experimental phase of the
project and if the animals abuse the park resources or create significant
conflicts with visitors, the program may be stopped. The estimated 1.1
million dollar project partners include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation,
Parks Canada, Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, Friends
of the Smokies, the U.S.G.S. Biological Resources Division, and the
University of Tennessee.
late evenings and cloudy summer days before or after storms is the best
time to view elk. Use binoculars for close-ups and DO NOT attempt to get
close! Approaching wildlife causes them to expend crucial
energy unnecessarily and can result in real harm. If you approach an
animal so closely that it stops eating, you are too close!
Most of the elk are located in the Cataloochee area in the southeastern
section of the park. The easiest way to reach Cataloochee is from
Interstate highway I-40. Exit I-40 at North Carolina exit #20.
After 0.2 mile, turn right onto Cove Creek Road and follow the signs 11 miles
into Cataloochee valley. Allow at least 45 minutes to reach the valley
after exiting I-40.
can grow larger than the park's black bears and can
be extremely dangerous. Females with calves will charged people to defend
their young and the males may perceive people as challengers and charge. Never touch or move elk
calves even if they appear to be orphaned.
The use of lures, elk bugles, and other wildlife calls are illegal
inside the park. It is also illegal to remove elk antlers or other
elk parts from the park. Never feed elk or other wildlife or bait them in
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.