Yesterday I joined the Elk Bugle Corp. It’s a large volunteer effort (76 of us) in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our main purpose is to educate the public about elk and to keep them at least 50 yards from these large grazing animals. And they are large. A bull can weigh up to 800 lbs. and a cow up to 600 lbs.
Four new volunteers met in the maintenance building with Mark LaShell, the Cataloochee Valley Ranger, and several experienced volunteers. In particular, Gini and Pete are full-time volunteers who live in a RV in the campgrounds. These folks know all the elk by number and what they’re up to. For example, #80 (the elk have numbers, not names) just gave birth to her third calf.
A little history, if I may. The eastern elk became extinct in the late 18th century in North Carolina, the early 19th century in TN. The word that the park uses is extirpated, which is a fancy word for “exterminated”.
There are three reasons for their extinction – overhunting, habitat loss and the introduction of live stock into their habitat. In 2001, after a lot of studying and research, the Park reintroduced 25 Manitoba elk, the closest subspecies to the original, from the Land between the Lakes, a park on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. The next year, they brought in another 27 from Elk Island National Park in Canada. For a while, it looked like the elk would not be sustainable (story to come in the next few blogs) but now there are 92 elk. There will be a few more, as calves start giving birth in June.
Donna, another volunteer, showed us the elk box which was put together to make the whole story clearer. We got a lot of facts, enough to make my head swim. I was gratified to hear that we will be paired with experienced volunteers who will get me started on this exciting job. Stay tunes because I plan to let you know about all my experiences.