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Joe Yarkovich


Elk Update #49
July 19, 2012

After several years of high reproduction and survival, the GRSM elk herd has had a below average year.  Known adult elk mortality has averaged about 4 animals per year since the beginning of the project with slight increases as the herd continued to grow.  As of July there have already been 8 documented adult elk mortalities in and around GRSM.  The mortalities have consisted of 5 males and 3 females of the following causes:

 

The GRSM elk herd is still small and its future growth is variable depending on recruitment and survival rates across time.  This year’s survival data will be added to the data from the previous 10 years and the population models will be reanalyzed.  The current elk population in western North Carolina is believed to be approximately 140 animals, counting those elk both inside and outside of National Park boundaries.

In February of 2011 a large bull elk was illegally killed near Harmon Den, outside of GRSM boundaries.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the case in cooperation with GRSM staff.  Three individuals have recently been charged with illegal possession of this elk’s antlers but there have been no poaching charges to date.  Elk are classified as a species of special concern in North Carolina, so killing elk or acquiring any part of an elk is illegal in the state.

The case of three elk that were illegally shot and killed this year on private property is still under investigation and is being handled by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in cooperation with GRSM staff.  The poaching occurred on May 17 in the Mount Sterling area near Waterville, and nothing was removed from the animals.  These elk consisted of one young male and two adult females, one of which was pregnant.  Recently, the NC Wildlife Federation has offered a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible.

Elk calving season is almost over and to date there has been 14 known calves born within GRSM, 13 of which are still alive.  While survival is high for the calves born this year, the number of calves born is lower than previous years due to several females moving into old age and multiple younger animals not producing calves.  Of the surviving calves that were handled, 5 are female, 3 are male, and the sex of the other 6 has yet to be determined by Park staff.  This does not account for calves that may have been born to elk that reside on public and private lands outside of GRSM. 

Joe Yarkovich
Wildlife Biologist, GSMNP
828-497-1928
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov

 


 

Elk Progress Report #48
July 19, 2011

Feature Topic: NC Elk, A Decade Later

In early 2001 the first elk set foot into Great Smoky Mountains National Park since the turn of the nineteenth century. This was the beginning of an experiment to see if an elk herd could sustain itself in the area after about a 200-year absence. Ten years later the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding land is home to approximately 140 elk, and the answer to that original question seems to be, yes, the elk can once again call this part of the Appalachians home.
It’s been a long journey for the elk to return to the Smokies, and the National Park, and its partners, have learned a lot about the North Carolina elk herd since their initial releases in 2001 and 2002. The first 8 years of the project was an experimental phase in which many aspects of their release into the Park were studied including home ranges, birth and survival rates, physiological measurements, possible impacts to Park resources, and projections for future herd sustainability were calculated, including others.
In the last ten years we’ve learned that, up to this point, the majority of elk have stayed close to where they were released and those that were born here tend to stay close to where they were born. There have been several animals that have left the immediate area and traveled through the region, but most NC elk have a fairly small home range. They are reproducing well and tend to have large, healthy calves that grow into adults with good body conditions and large antlers, all of which can be seen as an indication that they have high-quality habitat to feed and live in.
The elk that were originally released into the Park had never dealt with black bears as predators and as a result many of the calves born here were killed by black bears in the first few years. Over time, however, the elk seem to have learned to deal with bears and to hide and defend their newborns against them as survival rates for calves has increased over the years.
We’ve also learned that after ten years there are still a lot of people who are excited about having elk in the Great Smoky Mountains. After the elk were released into Cataloochee, visitation there doubled and has remained almost double ever since. Throughout the summer, and especially in the fall, throngs of visitors flock to Cataloochee Valley and Oconaluftee to picnic and enjoy the Park, and keep their cameras ready for when the elk come out of the woods and into the fields where they are most commonly seen.
One final thing we’ve learned about the Smoky Mountain elk herd is that we still have a lot to learn. The elk project is no longer framed as an experiment, but is transitioning into what is being considered a reintroduction. This doesn’t mean that the research is over though. The Park is in the process of finalizing a new environmental assessment and management plan, which includes strategies for monitoring possible future impacts to the elk as well as Park resources across the long term. As the dynamics of the Smoky Mountain elk herd change, the ongoing research and management will adapt and change with it to give Park researchers information about how the elk herd is fairing in its return home.

Smoky Mountain Elk Herd News

Since last update there have been a few changes within the elk herd. There have been seven elk mortalities since the last update was released. Four of those were in the Oconaluftee/Cherokee area and three were in Cataloochee. Near Oconaluftee a 1.5 year old bull was struck by a vehicle last October on Rte 441 and another in May along Big Cove Rd. Both bulls were euthanized as a result of their injuries. Last fall bull #106 died in a densely forested patch of land along Acquoni Rd. This animal was weak from a previous infection when it became entangled in grape vines and other vegetation. It was unable to free itself and likely died from exhaustion/asphyxiation. Ten-year old cow #39, known locally for being the elk that lived near the Casino, died of unknown causes in May. In the Cataloochee area cow #49 died of unknown causes, though at 12 years old her age likely played a role, and cow #60 died of stress-related injuries in November.
Near Harmon Den, in an area known as Twelvemile, bull #16 was killed illegally and the head and antlers were removed. #16 was one of the original 25 elk released back into the Park in 2001 from Land Between the Lakes, KY. He was a 6 x 7 bull in 2010 that spent most of the year in or around the Twelvemile area only returning to Cataloochee to breed during the fall rut. He was a dominant bull for the past 5-6 years and undoubtedly contributed to calf production within the Cataloochee elk group. The case is still under investigation and anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to call the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission toll free wildlife violations number at 1-800-662-7137.
In positive news the 2011 calving season is almost over and it has been another good year for herd recruitment. There have been 19 calves born so far this year that have been accounted for, 16 of which have survived. The causes of death for the three that died are unknown. Of the 16 surviving calves, at least 8 are female, 4 are male, and the sex of the other 4 has not yet been determined. There are still a few females that may have produced calves this year that have not been seen since calving season started, so there may be even more calves recruited into the Smoky Mountain elk herd in 2011!
This is a great time to come and see the newborn calves travelling with their mothers. If you come to see the elk in Cataloochee or Oconaluftee, please remember the following to help you enjoy your visit and keep you and the elk safe.
• Bring binoculars and zoom lenses. This allows for great viewing and photos from a safe distance.
• Be very mindful of your food scraps and please clean up after yourself. This helps eliminate the chances of an elk becoming conditioned to human food, which usually leads to the demise of the animal.
• Stay in or near your vehicle when the elk are out, and please pull off the road where it is safe to do so to allow traffic to continue around you.
• Be patient! This allows everyone to have a better experience of the Smoky Mountains, at a Smoky Mountain pace!

Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


 

Elk Progress Report #47
August 26, 2010


Feature Topic: Planning for the Future

When the first elk were released into Cataloochee Valley in 2001, the project was considered an experiment that would last 5 years, during which time researchers would gather and analyze the data necessary to make long-term projections about the herd’s success or failure in the Smoky Mountains. When the data was analyzed at the end of those 5 years there was an incredible amount of information that was learned about the herd, including home ranges, dietary composition, survival and reproductive rates, what impacts they were having on Park resources, and much more.
However, since the Park only received 2 groups of elk to release rather than the recommended 3 groups, the herd remained small and showed slow growth over those years. This also meant that the data analysis was very susceptible to slight changes in the herd. One way to increase the confidence and accuracy of the analysis was to extend the experimental phase an additional 3 years. This allowed for continued monitoring and research, with a new analysis of the herd’s long-term viability at the end of that experimental extension phase, which took place during 2009. This analysis showed a favorable projection for the elk herd’s potential future growth in and around the Park.
With all of the previous research and management activities in mind, the Park is shifting its focus on the herd from an experimental phase to a long-term management strategy. As part of this planning, the Park has prepared a new Environmental Assessment and Management Plan that outlines the elk project, as well as presents several alternatives for future elk management. One alternative is to continue the intensive research and monitoring that has taken place since the beginning of the project. The second, and the park’s preferred alternative of Adaptive Management, allows for a more selective and adaptive research and management approach that will be less invasive for the herd along with allowing Park staff to better address possible impacts in the future..
The Environmental Assessment and Management Plan are available for public review and comment for a 30-day period. If you would like to review the plans and provide comment to the Park, the information can be found online at:

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm
Or comments can be submitted by mail to the following address:

Superintendent
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, Tennessee 37738

All comments should be received by the Park no later than September 27, 2010 for consideration. Please be aware that the comments provided, as well as personally identifying information related to the comments may be made publicly available.

Smoky Mountain Elk Herd News

There has been a lot of activity around the elk herd since last update. In November 2009 Bull #21 was shot by a poacher in Cataloochee Valley. This bull was relocated to the Park from Land Between the Lakes and was one of the very first elk released into Cataloochee Valley in 2001. Number 21 was a highly visible bull that would often be seen near the Ranger Station or Palmer House in Cataloochee and provided a lot of bugling and fighting that crowds could witness during the fall rut. In July the poacher pled guilty to unlawfully shooting the elk and was sentenced to 150 days imprisonment and fined $8,384 in restitution costs. His rifle was also seized, which was autographed by Richard Petty, he lost his hunting license for two years, and has been banned from the Great Smoky Mountains and all other National Parks for two years.
On a lighter note, there has only been one documented mortality of an adult elk in 2010 so far! The animal that died was Cow #93, a 4-year old female that had a history of health problems and had a physical anomaly that would have prevented her from ever reproducing and having a calf. Her health would fluctuate throughout the year and in March she was found dead near the Rough Fork Trailhead in Cataloochee. While losing animals can be hard for such a small herd, this was the only elk lost so this year far which makes 2010 the best year for adult elk survival since the start of the program!
Another extremely positive sign for the program has been the success of calving season this year. To date, 25 calves are confirmed to have been born this year. Park personnel are able to track the fates of 17 of those calves, and so far all 17 have survived! Having that many calves and a survival rate of 100% makes 2010 the best year for herd recruitment so far! This is also a very good indication that adult females have learned how to hide and defend their calves better against predators. Of the 17 trackable calves, at least 7 are female, 4 are male, and the sex of the others has yet to be determined.
While the rut probably won’t be in full swing for another couple of weeks, things are starting to pick up around Cataloochee. The bulls in Cataloochee have all lost their velvet and several have begun to bugle and pursue cows. The bulls that have been dominant for the past three years, #’s 3, 16, and 67, have all returned to Cataloochee and have been bugling and raking trees most afternoons.
If you come to the Smoky Mountains to view elk this fall, please remember a few things to help make your visit a more enjoyable and safe one.
• Bring binoculars and zoom lenses. This allows for great viewing and photos from a safe distance.
• Be very mindful of your food scraps and please clean up after yourself. This helps eliminate the chances of an elk becoming conditioned to human food, which usually leads to the demise of the animal.
• Stay in or near your vehicle when the elk are out, and please pull off to the side of the road to allow traffic to continue around you.
• Be patient! This allows everyone to have a better experience of Cataloochee, at a Cataloochee pace!

Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


Elk Progress Report #46
October 15, 2009

Feature Topic: Responsible Behavior in Elk Country

Millions of visitors travel to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park every year for a multitude of reasons. In the Cataloochee Valley and Oconaluftee areas, thousands of visitors come each year with hopes of viewing wildlife, particularly the largest mammal in the Park; elk. While many visitors may not realize it, their actions while they are in elk habitat have a direct effect on the safety and well being of not only themselves and other visitors, but also the elk. When humans are in close proximity to elk, there is potential for elk-human conflicts that could result in serious injury to humans or contribute to the demise of an elk. While there is potential for conflict throughout the year, the greatest threats exists in the spring when cows give birth and fiercely defend their young and during the fall breeding season when bull elk are defending their harem. There are a few simple things that visitors can do to help improve the quality of their wildlife viewing while maintaining a safe and healthy balance with the elk.

• Bring binoculars or zoom lenses. Approaching wildlife within 50 yards or any distance that disturbs them is illegal and dangerous. Even seemingly calm elk can be very unpredictable and defend themselves or their young if they perceive a threat. Binoculars and zoom lenses can help you view the elk and get great pictures without disturbing them.

• Be very mindful of your food and clean up after yourself. Not only is feeding wildlife illegal, but once an elk is accustomed to human food its life span is typically significantly shorter for several reasons. Elk can quickly become nuisance animals and pose serious threats to human safety. Human food can also lead to rumen acidosis or other digestive problems that can kill elk. Whether someone intentionally throws food to an elk or they forget to pick up their peanut hulls or chicken skins when they picnic in elk country, they are endangering the well being of all of the elk and other visitors alike.

• Stay in or close to your vehicle when elk are nearby. When you drive the road in Cataloochee or Oconaluftee, the elk are never very far away. We ask that visitors remain on the roadway when elk are in the fields. Viewing elk near your vehicle can provide you with a safe place to retreat to should one approach you. Also, please do not stop or park in the road. Rather, pull your vehicle off to the side of the road whenever possible to allow other traffic to flow freely.

• Be patient. Whether you are trying to get that picture perfect elk moment on film or just take a scenic drive through Cataloochee Valley patience is the key to everyone enjoying their time here.


Smoky Mountain Elk Herd News

The 2009 calving season proved to be another successful year for the GSMNP elk herd. There have been a total of 19 calves born this year, 16 of which have survived which makes 2009 one of the best years yet for herd recruitment! While the sex of several of the calves has yet to be determined, it appears that they are split about evenly between male and female. Two of the calves that died were killed by bears and the third was very underweight when it was born. No bears were relocated as part of elk calving season this year, so it is very encouraging to see survival rates so high this year.

Initially there were 52 elk released into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With this year’s calving season included, there are currently about 110 elk in the GSMNP herd. There are 55 female elk, 45 male elk, and 8-10 whose sex has not yet been determined (2009 calves). These elk are spread fairly evenly across all age classes.

The fall rut is in full swing and there has been plenty of excitement around the herd so far! The cows have been divided into several different harems and there have been several different bulls seen with each harem. The most dominant bulls in Cataloochee so far have been #s 16, 3, 67, and an unmarked bull from the Cove Creek area. Bull #67 and the unmarked bull are the first bulls in Cataloochee to have been born in GSMNP and become dominant. The dominant bull in the Oconaluftee area is #74, also born in GSMNP. All of the bulls this year have very impressive antlers, which can be seen as a sign that there is high quality forage available for the elk.

With the leaves changing colors this is an excellent time to visit Cataloochee to view the elk and it seems that more people are making the trip daily. If you make the trip into the Valley, please remember to pull your vehicle off of the road when viewing wildlife, as it is becoming increasingly busy and traffic can congest quickly on the narrow road. Also, please remember that the elk are at an especially agitated state right now with the pressures of the mating season, and they can become aggressive suddenly. Remain in/near your vehicle at all times in the presence of elk and do not approach them! Have a great fall!


Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov



Elk Progress Report #45
June 9, 2009

Feature Topic: Elk Calf Development

            When a cow elk enters her second autumn she is capable of breeding, but it is more common for cows to breed in their third year.  Though elk are capable of producing twins, typically a single calf will be born per cow after a gestation period of about 8 ½ months with the most rapid development during the last 6 weeks.  Expectant cows will usually isolate themselves from the herd just prior to giving birth and choose an area with thick vegetation to hide their calves in.  In the Smokies, they are most often born between late May and early July and weigh between 25 and 40 lbs.  Newborn calves are capable of walking from birth, but they cannot travel very far and their natural defense for the first few weeks of life is to lie perfectly still close to the ground in dense vegetation.  They do not produce much scent for the first few weeks of life, so this behavior allows their spotted coats to camouflage them and escape detection by predators.  Cow elk will leave their young for most of the day, only joining it to feed a couple of times each day.  The calf processes milk through the reticular groove, a channel that allows highly nutritious food to bypass the animal’s rumen for faster absorption.  This groove will diminish after the calf is weaned, which usually happens by early fall.
A calf’s best defense is to grow big and strong enough to travel in the safety of the herd, and this doesn’t take them long.  Calves can gain up to two pounds of weight a day and after about 2 weeks the calf will be strong enough to travel with its mother and rejoin the herd.  By November, the beginning of their first winter, a 5-month old calf can weigh up to 5 times what it did at birth!! 

Smoky Mountain Elk Herd News

Bull Elk #4

            As 2008 came to an end, and we work through 2009, several changes have taken place in the Smoky Mountain elk herd.  The experimental phase of the project came to an end in December 2008 and all of the data has been summarized and presented to Park officials.  Park managers are now in the process of considering all of their options for the future of the herd and should reach a decision sometime in 2009. 

            Unfortunately, their have been a few adult mortalities since last update.  Two-year old bull #98 died in Cataloochee in December 2008 of unknown causes.  Other mortalities include yearling bulls #121 and #134 that died in February and May, respectively, and adult bull #68 in January.

The most recent mortality was bull #4.  This was a highly visible bull that was easily recognized in Cataloochee Valley by his abnormally shaped antlers that were shorter than most antlers and had a paddle-shaped formation at the top.  For several months this bull appeared to have been losing weight and over the past week his condition worsened very rapidly until he was unable to walk normally and had difficulty standing. Park managers consulted with a veterinarian and the decision was made to euthanize bull #4 because he would not recover from this poor of a condition.

The brighter side of 2009 so far is that calving season has begun and there could be more calves born this year than any year so far! There are several cows that could be producing their first calf, and with female survival very high over the last year things look optimistic for herd recruitment this year. Seven calves are known to have been born so far and at least two of them are female. Managers have not been able to handle the others yet to determine their sex and many more calves are expected to be born over the next 4 or 5 weeks.

Spring is a great time to visit the Park and view the elk. The bulls’ antlers are in velvet and growing very rapidly this time of the year. It can be interesting to watch their development over the course of the year until fall when they shed their velvet and enter the rut. Some of the calves that were born earlier are getting big enough to travel with their mothers and can often be seen in the fields, along with turkey hens and their newborn chicks. There have also been several sightings of bears feeding on wild strawberries in the fields of Cataloochee over the last few weeks. With all of the exciting things happening with wildlife right now, it is a great time to visit the Park and enjoy the show!!



Elk Progress Report #44
December 8, 2008


Year in Review: 2008

When the first group of elk was released into the Smokies in 2001, it was designed as a 5-year experimental project to assess the long-term viability of an elk herd within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There were several unforeseen obstacles that lie ahead, and as a result the experimental phase of the project was extended an additional 3 years so that an adequate amount of data could be collected to make a more accurate prediction. That extension is set to end at the end of this year, at which point all of the data will be reanalyzed and the Park will make its decision regarding the future of the Smoky Mountain elk herd. The herd currently consists of about 95 animals, quite an increase from the 52 elk that were originally released in 2001-2002!

2008 Calving Season
This year's calving season was another big success in terms of survival for the calves. A total of 19 calves have been confirmed to have been born this year, the same number of calves born in 2007. 2008 has proven to be more successful in terms of survival though, as 16 of those are thought to still be alive. While this year was above average with a calf survival rate of 84%, the sex ratio of the calves born was fairly poor. Of the 16 surviving calves this year, only 5 are female, 10 are male, and the sex of the last one is yet to be determined. Ultimately, the number of breeding females in the herd will have the greatest effect on their long-term success, so we would always like to see more females being born. Among the mortalities, one calf appeared to have died from natural causes, and the two others were never found. Among the cows that gave birth was #99, who bred at just 1.5 years old. This is a rare occurrence but not unheard of for first time breeders. She had a healthy female calf (#137) and both are regularly seen throughout the fields of Cataloochee. Another interesting fact about #99 is that she travelled out of Cataloochee Valley and up to Balsam Mountain to give birth. The only other cow that does this each year is cow #15, her mother.

Predator Management
The National Park Service continued its predator management efforts that began in 2006 in an effort to evaluate its impacts on newborn elk calf survival. Throughout the peak of the calving season, late May through early July, bears were trapped in and around Cataloochee Valley, radio collared, and relocated to the Twenty Mile area located in the western portion of the Park in North Carolina. History of bear management has shown that most nuisance Park bears relocated within the Park return to the capture site. Using this knowledge it was believed that by the time the relocated bears return to Cataloochee the young calves should be mobile enough to travel safely with their mothers. Post-release movements of the bears have been monitored and a portion of the bears have in fact been returning. While it is disheartening to lose any of the newborn calves, some mortality is expected and necessary, and considering the amount of predation documented since elk were released, 2008 appears to be an above-average year for calf survival.

Adult Mortalities
Unfortunately, there were a few adult mortalities in 2007 as well. A total of 5 adult elk were lost during the year. Cow #91, a 3 year-old, died in the Hurricane Creek drainage in early February. Necropsy results came back inconclusive for a cause of death. She had produced her first calf last year (#123, female) which remains healthy and with the herd. Cow #47 died in March in Ela, NC. Again, the exact cause of death is uncertain, but she was 14 years old at the time, which is considered rather old for an elk. Yearling cow #117 was found dead near the Masonic Marker on Balsam Mountain in June and was quite decomposed and predated upon when she was found. Bull #66 was struck by a vehicle along Big Cove Road in Cherokee and was euthanized as a result of his injuries. Finally, yearling bull #109 was heard on mortality in Little Cataloochee on November 5. Necropsy results and disease tests have not been returned yet.

Elk Bugle Corps
In May, the second season of the Cataloochee Bugle Corps got underway and they have only gained momentum over the last year. This group of volunteers dedicated their time and energy to providing education and visitor assistance to elk-watchers in Cataloochee Valley. In their second season, the 58 volunteers worked more than 5,000 volunteer hours, contacting over 64,000 visitors from May through November. This is the equivalent of having 6 additional full-time Rangers working in Cataloochee! Their enthusiasm and service has generated a lot of positive feedback surrounding the group and their hard work is greatly appreciated. The group will again be serving from May through November of 2009. For information on how to get involved with the Cataloochee Elk Bugle Corps, please email Mark LaShell at:Mark_LaShell@nps.gov.

2009 Outlook
It looks like 2009 will be another exciting year around the Smoky Mountain elk herd. In terms of calf production this spring, there are several young cows that could give birth to their first calf, meaning that 2009 has potential to be another record-setting year for herd recruitment! Bull elk tend to have the most antler mass at around 10 years old, and there are quite a few bulls at or around the 10-year old mark. This means that as long as there is adequate food available there is a lot of potential for even more spectacular racks to be seen next year. There are also a few rather aggressive younger bulls that will be gaining weight and antler mass, so competition during the 2009 rut should certainly be exciting!

Winter Elk Viewing Tip: Though early mornings and late afternoons are still the most active for elk viewing, on the colder days of winter the elk can often be seen in the fields all day long, particularly when it is overcast. If you make the trip into Cataloochee this winter please drive cautiously as the road is frequently icy, even when there is no snow.

Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management,
GSMNP 865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov



Elk Progress Report #43
April 15, 2008

Feature Topic: Elk Ivory

Although it is considered uncommon for an animal to have antlers and canine teeth at the same time, elk are one of the few that creatures that possess both. These teeth are located on the upper jaw near the front of the mouth, just behind the sharp incisors used for cutting grass. They erupt in an elk after about one year of age and are not fully formed until the animal is between 2 and 3 years old. Many scientists believe that these teeth are the remnants of tusks from the elk’s prehistoric ancestors. Other names for them include “ivories”, “buglers’, and “whistlers”. These teeth are quite unique in that they are considered to be ivory and have a rather rich history.
It is believed that these teeth have been seen in cultural use dating far enough back in history to be considered among the first jewelry ever worn. Since each animal only produces two of these teeth in its lifetime they were considered quite valuable. They were used as a currency among some Native Americans for many years. Other uses included jewelry and decorating ceremonial shirts worn by both men and women. One ceremonial shirt or dress could be decorated with as many as 400 of these teeth! Again, because of their rarity this was seen as quite a status symbol among many tribal peoples.
In more recent times, biologists use the teeth to tell the approximate age of an elk based on how much of the crown has erupted and how much wear it shows. These teeth are also still used as personal adornment. They were very sought after and used as part of a watch worn by members of the fraternal Elk’s Club. Many pieces of jewelry are still made from these elk teeth and as the only legal North American ivory there is considerable demand for it. Some companies have even taken to producing fake “ivories” for use in jewelry. The ivories from an adult bull elk will sell for around $15 per tooth.

Smoky Mountain Elk Herd News

Spring has arrived and with it has come several changes in the Smoky Mountain elk herd. Unfortunately, late winter and early spring have taken their toll on a few members of the herd. On Saturday, February 9, cow elk #91 was heard on mortality and found dead in a drainage near the Rough Fork/Caldwell Fork trails junction. The carcass was packed out and taken to University of Tennessee for necropsy. Test results came back inconclusive and it is unknown why this animal died. #91 was three years old and produced her first calf last year (#123, female).

On Monday, March 17, cow elk #47 was heard on mortality and her remains located on some private property in Ela, south of Cherokee. #47 remained almost exclusively in this area, only travelling north to Oconaluftee and joining the elk there briefly during the fall rut before returning to Ela. It is unknown why cow #47 died, though she was approximately 14 years old, which is considered quite old for an elk.

All of the adult bulls have shed their 2007 antlers and new sets have started growing already. At this stage the antlers are not much larger than a person’s hand, and almost the same shape. Growing at a rate of up to an inch a day they are among the fastest growing tissue in the world. A healthy set of antlers also indicates that there is an adequate food supply available to the animals. 2007 produced the largest antlers ever seen in Cataloochee indicating that the bulls are finding a lot of rich food and they are in good health. Hopefully 2008 will produce even more spectacular antlers!

The start of calving season is only a couple of weeks away and this should be a monumental year for the Smoky Mountain herd. Many of the younger females were old enough to breed last fall and we are expecting to have more calves hitting the ground in 2008 than any other previous year. While it is not entirely common for a female to breed the first year she is able, behavior last fall suggests that we will have a few cows producing their first calf this year!

The Cataloochee Elk Bugle Corps is also getting ready for their second season of service. This group of volunteers dedicates their time and energy to providing education and visitor assistance to elk-watchers in Cataloochee Valley. The program was a huge success in 2007 and should be even better in 2008! There will be two upcoming training sessions in May for anyone wishing to help out as a volunteer. If you are interested in working with this enthusiastic group of people, or would like more information about them, please contact Mark LaShell at: Mark_Lashell@nps.gov.


Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


Elk Progress Report #42
January 28, 2008


Year in Review: 2007
A new year has begun and the future of the Smoky Mountain elk herd looks brighter. There were a lot of changes that took place within the herd during 2007 that are worth taking another look at in review.

2007 Calving Season
This past calving season was a big one, as more calves were born in 2007 than in any other year of the program. Part of the reason for this is that there were a couple of young cows who had their first calf, including #91 who bred when she was just 1.5 years old. This is a rare occurrence but not unheard of for first time breeders. Number 91’s calf (#123) is a healthy looking female born in July. Other first-time mothers include cow #80 and cow #64. There were a total of 19 calves confirmed to have been born with 16 of those occurring within Park boundaries (7 female, 7 male, 2 unknown). Of those 16 in the Park, 10 are thought to still be alive. Among the mortalities, evidence suggests that 3 were lost to bear predation, 1 was lost to coyote predation, 1 died from injuries inflicted by a dog or coyote on Big Cove Rd., and 1 was hit by a car along Rt. 441. There are at least 5 surviving female calves being added to the population, which makes 2007 our 2nd best year for recruitment!

Predator Management
The National Park Service continued its predator management efforts that began in 2006 in an effort to evaluate its impacts on newborn elk calf survival. Throughout the peak of the calving season, late May through early July, bears were trapped in and around Cataloochee Valley, radio collared, and relocated to the Twenty Mile area located in the western portion of the Park in North Carolina. History of bear management has shown that most nuisance Park bears relocated within the Park return to the capture site. Using this knowledge it was believed that by the time the relocated bears return to Cataloochee the young calves should be mobile enough to travel safely with their mothers. Post-release movements of the bears have been monitored and a portion of the bears have in fact been returning. One bear was trapped and relocated twice because he had returned while trapping efforts were still in progress, making the 40-mile journey in just 11 days. While it is disheartening to lose any of the newborn calves, some mortality is expected and necessary, and considering the amount of predation documented since elk were released, 2007 appears to be an above-average year for calf survival.

Adult Mortalities
Unfortunately, there were a few adult mortalities in 2007 as well. In March bull #82 was found dead in Nellie Drainage. His carcass was taken to the University of Tennessee for necropsy and it was determined that he most likely died from neck injuries sustained while fighting with another bull. Yearling bull #103 died while fighting another yearling bull in October at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Also in October, bull #14 was found dead on private land in the Crooked Branch area just outside of Cataloochee. His cause of death is unknown.

Elk Bugle Corps
In May, the inaugural season of the Cataloochee Bugle Corps got underway and they quickly became a large success. This group of volunteers dedicated their time and energy to providing education and visitor assistance to elk-watchers in Cataloochee Valley. In their first season, the 45 new volunteers worked more than 6,000 volunteer hours, contacting over 11,000 visitors from May through November. Their enthusiasm and service has generated a lot of positive feedback surrounding the group and their hard work is greatly appreciated. The group will again be serving from May through November of 2008. For information on how to get involved with the Cataloochee Elk Bugle Corps, please email Mark LaShell at: Mark_LaShell@nps.gov.

2008 Outlook
It looks like 2008 will be another exciting year around the Smoky Mountain elk herd. In terms of calf production this spring, there are several young cows that could give birth to their first calf, meaning that 2008 has potential to be another record-setting year for herd recruitment!
Bull elk tend to have the most antler mass at around 10 years old, and there are quite a few bulls at or around the 10-year old mark. This means that as long as there is adequate food available there is a lot of potential for even more spectacular racks to be seen this year. There are also a few rather aggressive younger bulls that will be gaining weight and antler mass, so competition during the 2008 rut should certainly be exciting!
When elk were released into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a 5 year experimental phase was begun to determine the long term feasibility of an elk herd in the Park. In 2006 that experimental phase was extended in hopes of gathering more data over an additional 3 years. This phase of the project is set to end in 2008, at which point the data will be re-analyzed and decisions will be made regarding the short and long-term management of the herd.

During the fall and winter of 2006 bull #81 left Cataloochee Valley and travelled into Tennessee spending time in Cosby, Newport, and Greenbriar before being darted in Walnut, a small community north of Weaverville, NC and returned to Cataloochee. In November of 2007, #81 again made his way into Tennessee spending time on multiple properties in the Cosby area. The Park received several reports of the bull on private properties where the owners were concerned for their safety as well as the bull’s. Working with TWRA, the Park made the decision to dart and return the bull to Cataloochee Valley. On Sunday, January 20, #81 was darted on private property along route 321 and released back into Cataloochee where he has remained since.

Winter Elk Viewing Tip: Though early mornings and late afternoons are still the most active for elk viewing, on the colder days of winter the elk can often be seen in the fields all day long, particularly when it is overcast. If you make the trip into Cataloochee this winter please drive cautiously as the road is frequently icy, even when there is no snow.

Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


GSMNP Elk Progress Report #40
August 7, 2007

Feature Topic - Elk Bugle Corps

Beginning in May, the first Elk Bugle Corps began it’s duties within Cataloochee Valley. These volunteers have dedicated their time to assisting and educating visitors about the Great Smoky Mountain elk herd. They patrol the Valley weekday afternoons and all day on weekends answering questions and giving informal “elk talks” to interested and curious visitors. The volunteers carry an “Elk Education Trunk” that was donated to the Park from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The Trunk has elk antlers, animal skins, skulls, scat and other tools that allow visitors a hands-on approach to learning more about elk and other wildlife. This enthusiastic group has been a great help in improving visitor education with regards to the elk. They also assist in ensuring that visitors stay a safe distance from elk, bears, deer and other wildlife. To date, they have contacted over 11,000 visitors and worked over 1,000 volunteer hours. For more information on how you can serve as a Bugle Corps volunteer, contact Mark LaShell by email at: Mark_LaShell@nps.gov

2007 Newborn Elk Calves
The 2007 calving season is almost over and it has been another good year. We have been able to confirm the birth of 17 calves so far: 6 female, 6 male, 5 yet to be determined. Of those born, 12 are still alive and appear to be doing quite well. Of the 5 that died, bear predation is suspected in 3 of the calves, 1 died from injuries inflicted by a dog or coyote along Big Cove Road, and 1 was struck by a vehicle along Hwy. 441, north of the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center. Three were male, one was female, and the sex of one calf was unknown.

2007 Predator Management
The National Park Service continued its predator management efforts that began in 2006 in an effort to evaluate its impacts on newborn elk calf survival. Throughout the peak of the calving season, late May through early July, bears were trapped in and around Cataloochee Valley, radio collared, and relocated to the Twenty Mile area located in the western portion of the Park in North Carolina. History of bear management has shown that most nuisance Park bears relocated within the Park return to the capture site. Using this knowledge it was believed that by the time the relocated bears return to Cataloochee the young calves should be mobile enough to travel safely with their mothers. Several of the bears relocated this year have already returned, making the 40-mile journey in as little as 11 days. While it is disheartening to lose any of the newborn calves, some mortality is expected, and considering the amount of predation documented since elk were released, 2007 appears to be an above-average year for calf survival. What happened in 2006 when predator management began? Thirteen calves were born, 11 of which survived. This is good news considering the survival of newborn elk calves jumped from approximately 30% in 2005 to approximately 85% in 2006 and about 70% in 2007.

Herd Status
The current number of adult elk in the Smokies elk herd is approximately 75 animals. While the herd showed a slow growth rate for the first several years, due mainly to parasites and bear predation on calves, increased recruitment has brought the total number of animals up to at least 75 adults (1 year of ago and older), in addition to the newborn elk calves born in 2007. In response, the sex ratio of the herd has also turned slightly in favor of the females with an average of 1.3 females: 1 male. Great news!

Antlers, Antlers, Antlers!
The big bulls in the Smokies elk herd have grown large impressive antlers in 2007, larger than 2006. The largest “rack” among them belongs to bull #17 who has 9 points on each side. There are several 7x7’s, a 7x8, and a few large 6x6’s in the herd as well. Bulls #16 and #3, who were the herd bulls in 2006, have not been seen since antler growth has completed. With the days beginning to shorten, the bulls’ testosterone levels are rising and they are beginning to shed their velvet in preparation for the fall rut breeding season. Competition for the female cows should be fierce this year. Don’t miss the show!


Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


GSMNP Elk Progress Report #39
March 9, 2007

Feature Topic: Antler Development

Spring is upon us and with the days beginning to lengthen, signs of the season can be seen within the elk of Cataloochee as well. For the Smoky Mountain herd, March is the beginning, and also the end of the yearly antler cycle. Testosterone is the chemical in elk that controls the development of antlers each year. During the spring an elk’s testosterone levels drop, which causes the bond between the antler and the pedicle to weaken, and the antlers fall off. Usually both drop within a 24-hour period. As the days begin to lengthen, testosterone levels in the bulls’ blood increases, signaling the onset of new antler growth.
Antlers begin growing as soon as the previous year’s set has fallen off. Antlers can grow as much as an inch a day during the spring and summer months and are considered one of the fastest growing tissues in the world. During this development, they are covered in a soft layer of velvet that functions very much like skin. The antlers are living tissue, and this velvet contains veins and capillaries that carry blood and minerals to the developing bones. While still in velvet, an elk’s antlers are light and somewhat malleable. They continue this rapid growth for about four months until they reach full size.
Sometime around August, a bull’s antlers will fully mineralize and the new hardened bone will emerge. As the antler hardens, blood flow to them is halted and as a result, the velvet begins to fall off. This velvet will be shed over a 24-hour period, usually rubbed off against trees, and the newly emerging antlers will appear bloody for a few days afterward. These new bones, which can weigh up to 40 pounds, are made up of calcium, phosphorous, and up to 50% water.
As a bull ages, his antlers will continue to grow larger each year provided that he is in good health and there is an abundance of nutrient-rich food. Larger racks are typically a sign of mature bulls in good health, and signal to the cows that they are a worthy mate. While the antlers are developing, a bull does little besides eat to ensure that he has enough nutrients to grow a large, uniform rack capable of defending himself and competing for the right to breed when the rut begins. Bull elk will carry these antlers and spar throughout much of the fall and winter until March rolls around and the process begins all over again.


In February we were contacted by a landowner in the Suttontown area that a small group of bulls were causing some concern to area residents. Over the past few years we have received reports of elk being fed in an area not too far from where these elk were using. As a result it appears that a couple of elk may have lost some of their fear of people and now feel comfortable to approach them closer than is normal for wild animals. To minimize any additional concern and/or conflict it was decided to capture and relocate the animal(s) that were the primary root of the problem. On February 26, bull #66, which had a broken antler on his left side was captured and relocated to the Oconaluftee area where he has remained with that group of elk since.

While attempting to dart another of the Suttontown bulls, several uncollared cows were seen traveling with Bull #68 in the Cove Creek area. Most of these females were previously unaccounted for, and as many as five new adult females are now included in the Smoky Mountain population. Efforts are still in progress to monitor any elk using the Suttontown/Cove Creek area and, if possible, assist land owners with any concerns.

On Tuesday, March 6, Bull #82’s collar was heard on mortality and his carcass was found in a drainage east of Nellie Ridge in Cataloochee Valley. He was a 3-year old bull born to Cow #24 in Cataloochee Valley in spring of 2004. The carcass was taken to the University of Tennessee where a necropsy will be performed for disease testing and possible cause of death.

The elk that travel through Cataloochee Valley had been moving around in the woods very frequently over the past month and had only occasionally been coming into the fields to feed. They seem to be returning to a normal, somewhat predictable pattern and can once again be seen most mornings and evenings feeding in the fields. A few of the bulls have already shed their antlers for the season, but most still have their racks and are traveling in two large groups. It is illegal to remove shed antlers from the Park, as they are an important source of calcium for smaller animals. If you find one, please leave it where it is.


Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


GSMNP Elk Progress Report #38
Dec. 19, 2006

Feature Topic: Bull #81
Sex: Male
Age: 2 years, 6 months
History: Born in Cataloochee Valley on June 18, 2004 to cow #49.
Noteworthy Behavior: Bull #81, a 2.5 year old Cataloochee native, had spent most of his life within Cataloochee Valley until July of this year, when he moved to the Big Creek area of the Park. He remained there until the end of August when he came back to the Valley as the elk were beginning to come into the rut. He began sparring with the more dominant bulls and after about 2 weeks again left the Valley. He passed through the Big Creek area and kept going to within Newport city limits. #81 spent several weeks moving around Newport and Cosby before traveling to the Greenbrier area of the Park between Cosby and Gatlinburg. After a few days there he moved to Baxter’s Orchard along rte. 321 for a few days feeding on apples left on the ground. He then traveled back through Newport, through Del Rio, and up to Hot Springs, NC for 5 days before moving southeast to the small community of Walnut, NC along the French Broad River. With numerous land owners calling with concerns for the safety of the elk as well as passing motorists, the decision was made to return #81 to the rest of the herd in Cataloochee on December 6, roughly 11 weeks after he began wandering. He has been traveling with a small group of bulls since his return.


Cow #78, a 2.5 year old in the Oconaluftee area was tagged and collared last week. She travels with a small group of elk near Cherokee that includes her mother, cow #5, as well as two younger generations from the same cow. There is also another unmarked female in that group that will be tagged and collared as soon as possible.

On December 3 a young, unmarked bull was hit by a motorist on Interstate 40 near mile marker 18. The elk suffered from two broken back legs and possible internal injuries and the decision was made to euthanize the animal. It was euthanized and taken to The University of Tennessee for necropsy and disease testing, results are pending. The accident occurred near a group of elk in the White Oak area just outside the Park boundary.

Another calf is confirmed to have been born this year and has survived near the White Oak community. While the sex of the calf is currently unknown, efforts will begin in January to capture and collar several elk in that area, including the calf, as well as bull #26, whose collar was recently knocked off while fighting. This confirmation takes the total number of known calves produced in 2006 to 13, with 11 of those still alive.

The best times of day to view the elk are early morning and late afternoon, though they might remain out in the fields on colder days. If you come to Cataloochee to see them, please remember that elk are wild animals with behavior that is sometimes unpredictable. Remain on roadways when wildlife is present, and do not approach them. Please drive cautiously as there are frequently icy road conditions, even on clear days and when there is no snow.


Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
865-850-0533
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


GSMNP Elk Progress Report #37
Nov. 16, 2006

Feature Topic: The Fall Rut
The shortening days and cooling temperatures of September and October signal an important time of the year for the elk of Cataloochee: the fall rut. The rut is the several-week breeding period when the cows cycle into estrus and the bulls compete for dominance to mate with the cows.
A bull’s behavior will change significantly during the rut. They will have swollen necks, much like white-tail deer and will be seen rubbing their antlers against trees and the ground. They will scrape a bare spot on the ground with their hooves and antlers and urinate in it before wallowing there. This spreads their scent evenly across their body, announcing their presence to females and other bulls alike. A more noticeable announcement of their presence is bugling; a call the bulls make that can be heard up to a mile away in some terrains. This advertises his fitness to the cows, or challenges other bulls. If another bull accepts the challenge, the two will lock antlers and fight until an order of dominance is established. Typically, only the bigger, stronger bulls have a chance to mate with the females ensuring that the strongest genes are passed on to the offspring. When a cow cycles into estrus it lasts for less than 24 hours, so the herd bull must remain attentive, even while other bulls are challenging him.


Throughout the rut this year the cows and calves were split into two separate harems. Bull #16 traveled with one group while bull #3 traveled with the other. Both defended their respective harems against the subordinate bulls and were each seen breeding within their group. #16 is currently traveling with all of the cows, but has allowed younger bulls to once again travel with the herd, a signal that the rut is over. Bull #3 has since left the Valley and traveled back to the Big Cove area near Cherokee.


Bull #81 has continued traveling and is currently near Baxter’s Orchard along route 321 between Cosby and Greenbrier. Local land owners as well as the orchard owners have not reported any damage being caused by him; the only exception is that traffic tends to slow down when the elk is visible. We are working with the land owners to help ensure #81 remains safe while in the area, at the same time trying to keep him away from the roads for the safety of motorists and himself.
An unmarked, untagged cow elk has been seen traveling with the elk in or near the fields at the Oconaluftee visitor’s center. There has also been an additional calf seen traveling with the group, increasing the total number of confirmed calves born this year to twelve. Ten of those twelve are known to still be alive and we will be working over the winter to put new collars on them to monitor their survival. Five of those are female, four are male, and one has not been seen regularly enough to confirm the sex.


Several bulls that had not been seen out in the fields for several months have returned. #82, #41, #36 are now seen daily traveling with the group that has been there all summer and fall. Bull #68 has left the valley and has been seen traveling with several other elk in the White Oak community, east of Cataloochee.
Visitation has dramatically decreased with the closures of the campgrounds and the elk of the Valley often remain out in the fields throughout the entire day now that temperatures are cooler. These two factors combine to make a great time for visiting Cataloochee to view the elk without the relative commotion of the higher visitation seasons. For your safety and theirs, please remember to remain on the roadway when any wildlife is present.

Joe Yarkovich
Elk Management, GSMNP
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


 

GSMNP Elk Progress Report #36
October 11, 2006

Feature Topic: Bull #3
Sex: Male
Age: 8 years old
History: Bull #3 was released into Cataloochee Valley in the winter of 2001. He was captured and brought in from Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky.
Noteworthy Behavior: Bull #3 was released into Cataloochee in the winter of 2001. He has since moved out of the Valley towards Oconaluftee to the west. Bull #3 spends most of the year solitaire only to return to Cataloochee Valley every fall when the rut begins and bulls vie for dominance within the herd. This behavior seems to be typical of the bigger, more dominant bulls. It is thought that by spending the year alone, they are free to consume all of the most nutrient-rich food sources rather than competing for them with other elk. This allows them to grow larger and stronger than the bulls sharing a food source, giving them an advantage when it comes to rutting. Bull #3 currently controls a harem of approximately 7 cows and 4 calves.


As autumn rapidly progresses, and the days are getting shorter, the elk of Cataloochee are showing more and more signs of reproductive behavior. Bull #3 and Bull #16 each currently have a small harem of cows traveling with them in separate fields. The two were seen fighting recently but it was very brief and did not seem to identify a clear order of dominance. These two bulls are the most common to be seen and heard bugling, but are certainly not the only ones. As the days pass, more of the subordinate bulls are heard bugling around the fields and are seen sparring with each other quite frequently. While there has not been any confirmed reproduction yet, the cows are expected to cycle into estrus within a week or two and breeding should begin shortly.

Bull #81, 2-years old, left Cataloochee Valley in June and moved to the Waterville/Big Creek area. He returned to the Valley briefly in early September when the other bulls were beginning to spar and vie for dominance. After just one week #81 left the valley again passing through the Big Creek area and continuing all the way north of the Newport, TN city limits. He has now been located just to the west, south, and east of Newport city limits. Since those reporting the elk on their property have been receptive of his presence and he has not caused any damage, #81 is not being considered a nuisance and will not be returned to the valley at this time. He is being monitored regularly for location and survival.

Cow#47 has spent the last several weeks in an area near Rte. 74 in the town of Ela, NC. She moved there from the Oconaluftee area in the middle of August. On October 9, she moved back up to the Oconaluftee area and is currently traveling with the small group of elk that feed in the Big Cove Rd. fields. Her movement back to this group of elk coincides with the time she is expected to come into estrus and breed.

With the leaves beginning to change colors this is an excellent time to visit Cataloochee to view the elk, and it seems that more people are making the trip daily. If you make the trip into the Valley, please remember to pull your vehicle off of the road when viewing wildlife, as it is becoming increasingly busy and traffic can congest quickly on the narrow road. Also, please remember that the elk are at an especially agitated state right now with the pressures of reproduction upon them, and they can become aggressive suddenly. Remain in/near your vehicle at all times in the presence of elk and do not approach them!

Joe Yarkovich
Elk Research Coordinator
National Park Service
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov



GSMNP Elk Progress Report #35
August 28, 2006

Feature Topic---Cow #11
Sex: Female
Age: 8 years old
History: Cow #11 was relocated to Cataloochee valley in the winter of 2001 from Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky.
Noteworthy Behavior: Cow #11 has given birth to 4 calves since she was moved to Cataloochee in 2001, and has been a very protective cow when it comes to defending her calf. While most cows will leave their newborns hiding in the tall grass of the fields and travel into the woods during the heat of the day, #11 remains right beside her calf throughout even the hottest hours of the summer afternoons. In 2005 she was seen charging and fighting a bear that was attempting to kill her calf. The bear was eventually forced to retreat, but the calf died shortly thereafter from injuries sustained. In 2006, #11 was the last of the cows in Cataloochee to calve. On the 4th of July she gave birth to a young female calf weighing about 30 lbs. that now travels around the valley with the rest of the herd and can be seen most mornings and evenings.

Since last update, a few elk have returned to Cataloochee Valley. On August 4th, Cow #6 was seen in the fields for the first time since calving began. A young calf was seen following her back into the woods and is believed to be hers. This makes the total known calf count for 2006 to be 11, 9 of which are believed to still be alive. Several calves from this year are seen regularly traveling with the herd and appear to be growing quite rapidly.

The bulls of the Valley are in the early stage of the rut. They have shed their velvet and have begun sparring with each other. On August 23, Bull #3 returned to Cataloochee from Oconoluftee near Cherokee. #3 was the dominant herd bull in 2003 and 2004, but was defeated in 2005 by Bull #16. Since then, #3 has been bugling, wallowing, and “herding” the cows around the fields. On August 25, Bull #16, the dominant bull in 2005, also returned to the Valley from an area just outside the park boundary between Cataloochee and the Big Creek area. These two bulls have been seen and heard bugling, but have not been seen sparring.

With the weather beginning to cool and the bulls now coming into the rut, it is a great time to visit Cataloochee Valley to view the elk and hear them bugle. It is also especially important to remember to keep your distance and to stay in or near your vehicle. Also, encourage others not to approach elk – they can be dangerous. There are a lot of changes currently taking place within the herd and animal behavior can be even more unpredictable than usual. Thank you and enjoy your visit!

Joe Yarkovich
Elk Research Coordinator
National Park Service


GSMNP Elk Progress Report #34
August 4, 2006

Feature Topic—New GRSM Elk Research Coordinator

· Name: Joe Yarkovich
· Hometown: Herminie, Pennsylvania
· Education: B.S. in Environmental Studies from Allegheny College, 2003
· Previous Work Experience:
o Field Crew Leader for black bear restoration project at various Wildlife Management Units throughout LA with Louisiana State University
o Predator Research and Management on San Clemente Island, CA with the Institute for Wildlife Studies
o Biological Science Technician focused on black bear management in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, CA with the National Park Service.
o Feral animal removal on Santa Catalina Island, CA with the Institute for Wildlife Studies
o Forestry Technician focused on exotic vegetative species within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC with the National Park Service
o Multiple positions within Wildlife Management of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC with the National Park Service

Current Contact Information:
Joe Yarkovich
3576 Ranger Station Rd.
Waynesville, NC 28786
Email: Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov
Phone: 865-850-0533


Since the last update, a few changes have occurred in and around the Cataloochee Valley. In May, Joe Yarkovich was hired replacing Steven Dobey. Steven was hired by Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to serve as the agency’s wildlife program coordinator. With the fall rut just around the corner, activities on the elk program are beginning to settle somewhat and hopefully the progress reports will be coming on a more regular basis. One new addition to the progress reports will be a feature on one of the elk, personnel working on the project, or any related event.

In 2006, the biggest news to report is the apparent success of the calving season. To date we have been able to visually confirm the birth of ten calves. Of those born, eight have survived and appear to be doing quite well! Although not confirmed there are probably more elk calves in and around the Cataloochee area. Calf reproduction this year is significantly better than in 2005 when only three of the nine calves born survived. All known losses but one were due to predation. The two known calf mortalities in 2006 resulted from black bear predation. In an effort to evaluate the impact of bears on elk calves some bears were relocated from Cataloochee Valley to other areas in the Park. History of Park bear management has shown that most bears relocated in the Park return to the capture site. But, by the time these animals return the young calves should be old enough to travel safely with their mothers. While it is disheartening to lose any of the newborn calves, some mortality is expected, and considering the amount of predation documented since elk were released, 2006 appears to be the most promising thus far. Also, at least four of the known surviving calves are female adding to the optimism this year. Visitors to the Valley can expect to see several young calves running, playing, and nursing from their mothers in the Cataloochee fields almost every morning or evening.

The bulls of Cataloochee are still traveling together and with their antlers in full velvet they make quite a sight to see! There are several impressive racks in the group including a couple that are 6x6 and 7x7. Bull #17 looks to have the largest rack with eight points on each side. Bull #4 may have the most unique antlers (3x4), since both have a fairly large palmated formation at the top. Last year Bull #16 was the dominant bull of the Valley, but he has yet to return. It will be interesting to see if he can defend his title.

Unfortunately in 2006 we have documented the loss of one and possibly two adult elk. In March, Bull #25 was found dead near Heintooga Road. In May, Bull #1’s collar was found on a ridge surrounding Cataloochee Valley. The last sighting of him reports him in poor health and although no remains were found near the collar, it is likely that he died.

The elk of the valley may appear to be quite docile and friendly, but please remember that if they feel like you are threatening them or their calf, they will defend it without warning. Please stay in or near your vehicle and never approach any of the wildlife in Cataloochee. With the current heat wave keeping the elk back in the woods longer everyday, the best chances to see the elk are right around daybreak and after 6 pm when the heat of the day starts to subside. Thank you and enjoy your visit!


Joe Yarkovich
Elk Research Coordinator
National Park Service
Joseph_Yarkovich@nps.gov


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 30 – 10/05/2005

With leaves changing in Cataloochee Valley, the summer field season has concluded for 2005. To date, we have confirmed the births of 10 calves (3M:5F:2?) from this year and possibly an additional 2–4 calves belonging to cows in more remote areas. Although predation by black bears has resulted in only 2–3 of the 10 confirmed births surviving, these calves are female. While those numbers are disconcerting at first, this calving season has produced more females than each year before. This is very promising considering that approximately 75% of all calves born from 2001–2004 were male.

Since January, we have documented 3 non-calf mortalities; these include a 1.5-year-old bull (#65) from Oconaluftee, a 4-year-old bull (#59) from the White Oak area outside the Park, and a 9-year-old cow (#28) from Cataloochee Valley. All of those deaths appear to have been from natural causes. Again, these numbers are considerably better than 2004 when the project lost a total of 9 elk (3 subadults and 6 adults).

If anyone has yet to make a trip to Cataloochee Valley this year, the next 2 weeks will be the time to go. The rut is now in full swing, and elk are exhibiting some of the most visible and intense behavior of any season. Bulls can be heard bugling and seen fighting with one another on almost a daily basis. In addition, more dominant bulls can be seen herding cows into harems and defending them from any challengers. While elk are active in the mornings, bulls and cows have been more visible in the evenings. Arriving any time after 5 pm should guarantee a great opportunity to view rutting behavior, which should continue into mid-October. However, we do caution and insist that all visitors remain near their vehicles and DO NOT enter fields when elk are present. Bulls can be very aggressive and somewhat unpredictable during the breeding season. As such, visitor cooperation in this manner will ensure an enjoyable trip while minimizing unnecessary risk to people and elk.


Steven T. Dobey
Elk Research Coordinator
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
steven_dobey@nps.gov


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 29 – 7/13/2005


Since the last update in February, the 2005 field season has proven to be quite busy. On a very positive note, there have been no adult elk mortalities this year to date. The lone death that was documented was a 1.5-year-old bull (#65) that resided in fields behind Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Bull #65 had
been in poor condition for several months and finally succumbed to meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis) in late February. This is a marked contrast from 2004 when 6 mortalities of adult elk were documented by the end of April.

Field work this summer has been split into two crews, one documenting calf production and the other sampling vegetation exclosures throughout GSMNP. There are 60 pairs of exclosures to be sampled and this will last into early fall. These exclosures were last sampled in 2002, and these comparisons of species composition will provide invaluable data as to the effects, if any, that elk are having on vegetation in the Park.

While only halfway through the summer of 2005, we have encountered many highs and lows this calving season. As of this update, we have documented the births of 9 calves (3M:4F:2?) since the first weekend in June. Those calves were born in Cataloochee Valley (n = 6), on the Blue Ridge Parkway (n = 2), and Oconaluftee (n = 1). Unfortunately, 5 of those died within 4 days of birth, including all calves born in the fields of Cataloochee Valley. The lone calf born away from the fields is still alive with its mother in the general vicinity of the Cataloochee maintenance area. All mortalities, except one, were the result of predation by black bears. Throughout July we will continue searching for calves belonging to elk inhabiting more remote areas in and around GSMNP.

On a more positive note, bull elk in Cataloochee Valley are exhibiting the most impressive antler growth to date. We’ve already seen several 6x 6 elk and this week I observed a 6 x 7. Also, after weeks of hard work the lone cow elk (#42) residing south of Cullowhee, NC was finally captured in late March and returned to Cataloochee after a 3-year absence.

 


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 28 – 2/23/2005

There have been 2 mortalities since the last progress report. A subadult female (#70) died in Cherokee (10/04) likely from meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis). The second mortality also occurred in 10/04 and was an adult female (#45) in the White Oak area outside of GSMNP. The death of #45 was the result of poaching and the investigation is still pending.

The lone bull (#56), that inhabited Cosby, TN for over 2 years, returned to an area just outside of Cataloochee Valley this past November. He is now with a
group of approximately 7 elk. The dominant bull (#3) from Cataloochee Valley continues to move between Cataloochee and Cherokee; he has made this trek 4 times since August 2004.

We have been attempting to recollar several animals. Since January 2005, we have retrieved 3 of the 9 GPS collars that have to be removed. Additionally, we will soon begin attempts to equip the 2004 calves with adult radio transmitters. We are also trying to capture the lone female outside of Sylva. If caught, she will be returned to the herd in Cataloochee.

 


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 27 - 9/1/2004

We have documented the births of 8 calves from the 2004 calving season; several adult females were not pregnant. There are currently 2 calves in Cataloochee valley (1 male, 1 female, and 1 deceased male), 3 calves in the White Oak area, 1 calf on the Blue Ridge parkway, and 1 calf in Cherokee. There is a possibility that there are a few calves we have not located, but we should be able to document all live calves by this winter.

A yearling bull, #65, was injured in Cherokee from unknown causes. We are monitoring his condition.

A male elk, #30, was euthanized from a farmer?s property outside of Cataloochee valley (7/20/2004). This elk had been relocated from farms outside of the park on several previous occasions in 2002 and 2003. Interestingly, the mother of this bull was euthanized from the same farm in 2002.

It seems the rut (breeding season) has begun earlier this year (8/30/2004). A dominant bull, #3, has begun to corral females and bugle. He is being very aggressive. Please remember to stay on the road and out of the fields.

I am headed back to Knoxville to take classes. Steven Dobey, my better half, has been hired by the National Park Service to replace Brandon Wear. He will be keeping you updated for the next 8 months.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey
UTK PhD Candidate: Elk/Black Bear Research


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 26 – 7/13/2004

Midway through the summer, this years calving season has proved to be somewhat frustrating. While we have documented the births of 4 calves, several adult females who we suspected to have been pregnant are showing no obvious physical or behavioral signs.

We located and collared 2 male calves in Cataloochee Valley during the second week in June. One calf lost its collar after 4 days and is suspect dead. The second calf is alive and doing well. The 2 additional calves, which have been visually documented, are in Cherokee and the Blue Ridge Parkway. We are continuing to monitor 6 females in extremely remote areas by stalking in on those animals and visually assessing pregnancy/calves. We are also closely monitoring 4 adult cows in Cataloochee Valley whose reproductive status is uncertain.

On a more positive note, there have been no additional mortalities since the 6 deaths that occurred in the spring.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey
UTK PhD Candidate: Elk/Black Bear Research


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 25 – 5/15/2004

Many things have happened since our last update, including the deaths of 3 male (#43, 50, 62) and 3 female (#35, 53, 63) elk. Final necropsy reports have been issued on elk 43 and 62, and both of those deaths are suspected to be the result of meningeal worm. Causes of death for elk 50, 63, and 35 were undeterminable due to predation and advanced decomposition.

Since mid-February we have spent extensive time darting adult elk that were in need of radio-collar replacement. During that time we successfully radio-collared all yearlings born from 2003 that had yet been collared; those elk were #65, 66, 67, 68, 70, 74, and 75. We also are very excited to have deployed 9 refurbished GPS radiocollars on elk that were previously fitted with standard collars; those adults included 4 males (#3, 17, 25, 41) and 5 females (#5, 6, 15, 38, 49). We also replaced the radiocollars of 2 adults in Cataloochee Valley over the winter.

We are gearing up for our biggest calving season yet. We expect 20-25 calves to be born this summer. Finding calves is by far the hardest part of this project. Wish us luck!

Finally, Brandon has accepted a great new position with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in West Tennessee. We will miss him and all his hard work! Best of luck, Brandon!

Jennifer Murrow Dobey
UTK PhD Candidate: Elk/Black Bear Research


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 24 – 1/15/2004

Most elk movements have been confined in or near the Park; these areas include Balsam Mountain, Oconaluftee, Cherokee Indian Reservation, and White Oak. Our work efforts this winter remain focused on relocating specific elk,
radiocollaring yearlings, and recollaring 9 adults with refurbished GPS collars. Most of this work will be done later in January and February.

Elk #23 was killed on a farm inside the buffer zone on December 10th, 2003. The elk was shot because of landowner conflicts. Number 23 showed no obvious signs of disease. National Park Service employees transported the elk for
necropsy on December 11th; results are pending.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey
UTK PhD Candidate: Elk/Black Bear Research
jmurrow@utk.edu
(865) 974-0739

 

GSMNP Elk Progress Report 23 – 11/20/2003

We are continuing to monitor all elk daily. Many elk have confined their movements in or near the Park as winter approaches; these areas include Balsam Mountain, Oconaluftee, Cherokee Indian Reservation, and White Oak. In addition, several elk have returned to Cataloochee Valley from the Cherokee/Balsam Mountain area.

Of the 15-18 females we suspected were pregnant this summer, we were able to confirm 10 calves, and suspect 2 additional calves. One of the 10 confirmed calves was lost to predators (coyotes or dogs) earlier this summer.

Necropsy results on elk #55 identified nematode tracts indicative of Meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis). Elk #55 was a 2.5 year-old bull.

Our winter work efforts will concentrate on relocating a few elk, collaring large calves, and recollaring 9 adults with refurbished GPS collars.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey
UTK PhD Candidate: Elk/Black Bear Research


 

GSMNP Elk Progress Report 22 – 9/18/2003

We are continuing to monitor all elk daily. Many elk have confined their movements in or near the Park as fall approaches; these areas include Balsam Mountain, Oconaluftee, Cherokee Indian Reservation, and White Oak. In addition, several elk have returned to Cataloochee Valley from the Cherokee/Balsam Mountain area.

Of the 15-18 females we suspected were pregnant this summer, we were able to confirm 9 calves, and suspect 4 or more additional calves. One of the 9 confirmed calves was lost to predators (coyotes or dogs) earlier this summer.

On August 8, elk #9 was struck and killed by a truck near the Oconaluftee visitor center. Elk #9 was a 10-year-old female with a large calf. A second adult mortality, elk #55 was confirmed on September 1. A fisherman had reported seeing a very emaciated elk along Raven Fork the previous week. Elk #55 was a 2.5 year-old bull. Both elk were taken to the University of Tennessee Veterinary School for necropsy.

We immobilized elk #28, in Cataloochee, because of concerns over her physical appearance. The on-call veterinarian prescribed antibiotics and parasiticide.

The first documented rutting behavior was recorded on 4 September 2003. Bugling is occurring on a daily basis. Now is a time for visitors to be particularly respectful of the elk and give them plenty of space. Cataloochee is very crowded during September and October.

Our winter work efforts will concentrate on relocating a few elk and collaring large calves.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey
UTK PhD Candidate: Elk/Black Bear Research


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 21 – 7/2/2003

A calving update:
We expect there are approximately 15 females pregnant/calving this summer. At this time we have documented 4 calves, 1 of which was successfully radiocollared. We suspect 4 other females have calved based on behavior and locations, but have been unable to confirm offspring. There are several females that have not yet given birth or have yet to be assessed.

We immobilized elk #62, in Oconaluftee, because of concerns over his physical appearance. There were several external injuries, including a broken antler still in velvet. The cause of these injuries is unknown but may indicate vehicle collision or some other blunt trauma. The on-call veterinarian prescribed antibiotics and release.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey
UTK PhD Candidate: Elk/Black Bear Research


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 20 – 6/24/2003

We are continuing to monitor all elk daily. Many elk have increased their movements in certain areas during the summer; these areas include Balsam Mountain, Cataloochee Divide, Cherokee Indian Reservation, White Oak and Suttontown.

We expect there are approximately 15-18 females pregnant/calving this summer. At this time we have documented one calf and have reported sightings of one additional calf. We suspect 3 other females have calved based on behavior and locations, but have been unable to confirm offspring. There are many females still in Cataloochee Valley that have not yet given birth.

We confirmed a mortality on 22 June 2003. The elk was taken to University of Tennessee Veterinary School on 23 June for necropsy. Elk number 8 was a 10-year-old female suspected of being pregnant. She was a "loner" cow and cause of death is unknown.

Vegetation exclosures are being repaired over the summer to ensure stability. In addition to the existing 51 plots, 9 plots will be built and sampled this summer.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey
UTK PhD Candidate: Elk/Black Bear Research


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 19 – 3/29/2003

We are continuing to monitor all elk daily. Most elk have been minimizing their movements and staying in areas surrounding the Valley; these areas include Balsam Mountain, Cataloochee Divide, Cherokee Indian Reservation, White Oak and Suttontown.

Elk 22, 30, and 40 were held in the acclimation pen for a period of 4 weeks. They have all since been released back in to the Park, and are staying near their respective release sites. It also appears that these elk are interacting with other elk within GSMNP.

We also were able to replace all of the GPS collars that were activated in 2001. Each of the collars provided >2000 locations that will later be useful in determining how the animals have utilized available habitat types. The GPS collars were replaced with standard VHF radio collars. In addition, we have successfully darted and collared 2 more calves of the year.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 18 – 1/24/2003

We are continuing to monitor all elk daily. Most elk have been minimizing their movements and staying in areas surrounding the Valley; these areas include Balsam Mountain, Cataloochee Divide, Cherokee Indian Reservation, White Oak and Suttontown.

Several elk have been relocated from outside the park. Elk #30 was moved from Maggie Valley, Elk #40 was moved from Jonathan Creek/Suttontown, and Elk #22 was moved from Green County, TN, outside of Parrotsville. Elk #22 traveled as far as Bridgeport, TN in the summer, then back to Cataloochee for the rut, and finally back to Bridgeport and on to Green County, TN this winter. All three elk were immobilized, loaded into a trailer and moved back to the acclimation facility. They are being acclimated for a short period of time and will be released back into the park.

In addition, we are in the process of changing radio-collars on many animals. The time has come to replace several of the GPS collars and download the locational data contained in these collars. Some of the expandable spacers on the male collars also were in poor condition; we have replaced many of those as well.

Sorry for the delay in getting this update distributed.

Jennifer Murrow Dobey


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 17 – 10/10/2002

We are continuing to monitor all elk daily. Several elk continue traveling to and from areas surrounding the Valley, including Balsam Mountain, Cataloochee Divide, Cherokee Indian Reservation, White Oak and Suttontown. Several of the elk, which had ventured to these areas, have returned to the Valley.

Elk #22, the male that had traveled as far as Bridgeport, TN, has made his way back to Cataloochee. The bull traveled approximately 40 km, and his return coincided with the onset of this year’s breeding season. The “rut” began in early September, and should continue until late October.

Number 1 still appears to be the dominant bull in the Valley, with a harem of approximately 10 cows. The 9 other bulls residing in the Valley remain in their “bachelor group”. Smaller groups appear to have formed in areas outside the valley, such as the Suttontown community.

Calf # 60 remains in the Valley, and seems to be in very good health. Sightings have confirmed 2 pregnant females released this year lost their calves. Additionally, 2 females from last year’s release, which were thought to be pregnant, did not give birth. There are 4 unconfirmed calves, but we feel confident that 2 of those females do have calves based on behavior and sightings

The project vegetation crew has completed the season’s field sampling. Analyses will be preformed on the vegetation data to begin evaluating any impacts elk are having on the plants in Cataloochee Valley.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 16 - 8/1/2002

We are continuing to monitor all elk daily. Several elk have begun traveling to and from areas surrounding the Valley, including Balsam Mountain, Little Cataloochee, White Oak community, Cataloochee Divide, and Cherokee Indian Reservation lands. The furthest distance moved from the release site is approximately 40 kilometers.

Two pregnant females and 4 females who have potentially given birth are being monitored to document calving and calf survival. We have collared two calves this season, calf #60,born to #15 on 6/12/02 and calf #61, born to #24 on 6/25/02. Brandon sighted what we believe is the third calf, #62, born to #48 on 7/27/02.

Calf #61 died approximately 4 days after birth, and the collar indicated mortality on 6/30/02. Although we cannot positively conclude the cause of death, all evidence suggests a black bear. We would like to remind everyone, this is not a “bad” thing. The population as a whole seems to be doing great. This is the natural cycle of life and death. A healthy predator population is needed to keep a balance on prey populations.

We have sampled 16 of 54 vegetation exclosures to date. Although these sampling efforts are time consuming, analyses of our vegetation data will yield valuable information regarding impacts of elk on GSMNP.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow
UTK Graduate Student: Elk/Black Bear Research
jmurrow@utk.edu
(865)974-0202/(865) 974-0739


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 15 - 6/19/2002

We are continuing to monitor the elk in and around the fields of Cataloochee Valley daily. A few of the elk have begun traveling to and from areas surrounding the Valley, including Balsam Mountain, Little Cataloochee, and Cherokee Indian Reservation lands. These elk are being closely monitored as well. Most, however, remain in or near the Valley.

Six pregnant females and 4 potentially pregnant females are being monitored to document calving and calf survival. We have collared one calf this season, #60,born to #15.

As you’ve all probably heard, there were 3 adult female mortalities following this year’s release. One ten-year-old and 2 four-year-olds (both pregnant) were found dead on 4/22 and 4/23. Resultant necropsies found no sign of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). We suspect 2 mortalities were stress-induced; 1 elk had liver disease.

Vegetation sampling is now underway at exclosure sites within Cataloochee Valley. Wylie Paxton, with the Park Service, is heading up the sampling effort.

The Park Service has a new addition to the Wildlife Division; Mr. Brandon Wear was hired this past May. He will be monitoring elk movements outside of the park, working with landowners, doing public education, and helping with the calving season. We are very excited to have him!

Jennifer Lynn Murrow


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 14 - 4/19/2002

The second group of elk was released from the enclosure on 4/16. The gates were opened and the elk were free to roam. As of today, most elk are still hanging very close to the enclosure. Those elk were collared on 3/22 and then sprayed for ticks on 4/12. Winter ticks were initially found on 3/22, and they are currently found in others parts of the southeast. Since the tick has never been documented in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the National Park Service wanted to ensure that no potentially exotic ticks were spread in the park. The grounds within the enclosure will be burned sometime next week as an added precaution.

I am continuing to monitor the movements of 1 elk on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 1 elk just outside the Park boundary. A few elk have started to disperse further into the park. All remaining elk are being located daily in and around the fields of Cataloochee Valley. Elk are shedding their antlers, and we are starting to visually monitor for elk pregnancy.

Please remember that going into the fields to approach elk is prohibited, and Big Fork Ridge trail will be closed for another week or two.

ABC World News Tonight was supposed to air a clip on this project on 4/17, but it has been delayed until next week.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow


GSMNP Elk Progress Report 13 - 3/6/2002

I am continuing to monitor the movements of 1 elk on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 1 elk just outside the Park boundary. All remaining elk are being located daily in and around the fields of Cataloochee Valley.

The new batch of elk remains in the enclosure and they are being fed daily. The behavior of the second group of elk is much different than last year; they are much more skittish and jumpy. Those elk will be collared at the end of March and released during the first week of April. Pregnancy test results indicate that 7 of the 9 adult females in the second group are pregnant.

Please remember that going into the fields to approach elk is prohibited, and Big Fork Ridge trail will be closed until April when the second group of elk is released.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow
UTK Graduate Student: Elk/Black Bear Research
jmurrow@utk.edu
(865)974-0202/(865) 974-0739



GSMNP Elk Progress Report XII - 1/29/2002

I am sorry for the delay in getting this report out. Twenty-seven new elk (19 females and 8 males) from Elk Island National Park arrived in GSMNP this past Friday evening and were released without injury into the acclimation pen on Saturday morning (1/26/02). There was not a big event this year, and these elk will be released towards the end of March or early April.

A male calf (#30) was captured just outside of the park boundary and transported to the acclimation facility. He will be released with the other 27 new elk from EINP.

One elk entered the no-elk zone on a dairy farm in the Jonathan Creek community outside of Waynesville. We monitored her movements closely and made many attempts to immobilize and move her back into GSMNP. Local landowners became increasingly concerned over potential health risks to their cattle, however, so the decision was made to euthanize her. The animal will be necropsied to address any disease concerns the farmers may have.

We are continuing to monitor the movements of 1 elk on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 1 elk just outside the Park boundary. All remaining elk are being located daily in and around the fields of Cataloochee Valley.

Please remember that going into the fields to approach elk is prohibited, and Big Fork Ridge trail (to the acclimation pen) will be closed until the second group of elk are released.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow
UTK Graduate Student: Elk/Black Bear Research
jmurrow@utk.edu
(865)974-0202/(865) 974-0739




GSMNP Elk Progress Report XI - 11/28/2001

Female #12 was euthanized on 23 September 2001. The necropsy results were inconclusive, but signs strongly indicated she suffered from a neurological parasite. These results are indicative of Meningial worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis). We cannot say for certain at this time.

One female remains in the Cherokee area. We are continuing to monitor the movements of the 1 elk on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 2 elk just outside the Park boundary. All remaining elk are being located daily in and around the fields of Cataloochee Valley.

The calf of the relocated female was darted on 21 November 2001. The calf was radio-collared, given eartags (#29), and released into the herd on 23 November 2001. He weighed 230 lbs. and appeared to be in excellent condition. The calf remained with the herd for 2 days and then started making exploratory movements. We are monitoring his movements carefully.

Please remember that going into the fields to approach elk is prohibited.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow
UTK Graduate Student: Elk/Black Bear Research
jmurrow@utk.edu
(865)974-0202/(865) 974-0739




GSMNP Elk Progress Report - X - 10/04/2001

The project has documented its second mortality. Female #12 was euthanized on 23 September 2001. She was showing neurological and physical signs consistent with meningial worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis). The final necropsy results are not in yet. Upon initial examination, the female was in excellent physical condition, and all organs looked healthy and normal. Researchers and GSMNP officials expect to have mortalities due to this worm. Meningial worm is usually carried passively in white-tailed deer. This demonstrates another expected form of natural mortality.

Two females have joined the 2 males in Cherokee. We are continuing to monitor the movements of 4 elk on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 1 elk just outside the Park boundary. The bull elk that was in and around the White oak landfill has returned to Cataloochee. All remaining elk are being located daily in and around the fields of Cataloochee Valley.

A female elk whose activities had been concentrated on a farmer’s property outside of the Park was darted and moved at the landowner’s request. The calf of the relocated female remains on the landowner’s property and, as of 29 September 2001, is still alive and healthy.

The first documented mating was recorded on 25 September 2001. Bugling is occurring on a daily basis. Now is a time for visitors to be particularly respectful of the elk and give them plenty of space.

Please remember going into the fields to approach elk is prohibited.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow
UTK Graduate Student: Elk/Black Bear Research
jmurrow@utk.edu
(865)974-0202/(865) 974-0739




GSMNP Elk Progress Report IX - 8/14/2001

The project has documented its first mortality. Calf #31 was found on the 9th of this month. She was killed on the night of the 8th. Necropsy results indicate it was most likely a coyote kill. Unfortunately, at this point there is no way to be certain of the cause of death. Necropsy results also showed that the calf was not in good physical shape; her fat reserves were very low. Additionally, the fields were recently mowed in Cataloochee and that may have played a role in the calf being more easily preyed upon. Regardless, this demonstrates a natural cycle of predator-prey relationships that influence most prey species by helping to prevent overpopulation.

We are continuing to monitor the movements of 2 elk on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 3 elk just outside the Park boundary. All remaining elk are being located daily in and around the fields in the Cataloochee Valley.

We have and may continue to make an attempt to move a female and her calf back into the Park. Although she has caused minimal damage on private property, public sentiment surrounding her continues to be positive.


GSMNP Elk Progress Report VIII - 8/1/2001

The calving season is over. We located 4 calves, but only 2 have collars at this time. A third calf was also collared, but he got his head caught under an old fallen tree and pulled the collar off. Any other births have not been confirmed. The calves are doing well. We have learned a lot about elk calves and will be better prepared for next season.

We are continuing to monitor the movements of 2 elk on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 3 elk just outside the Park boundary. All other elk are in and around the fields in the Cataloochee Valley.

Eric Fabio is working on exclosures and plant sampling schemes.

There has been an increase in bear activity in the fields in Cataloochee. We are monitoring elk everyday.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow
UTK Graduate Student: Elk/Black Bear Research



GSMNP Elk Progress Report VII 7/10/2001

Today, Carrie, my technician, and I collared a third calf near the edge of the fields in Cataloochee. The calf, #31, is female and was born Monday (7/9) night. She weighed 30 lbs and is doing fine. Her mother was very protective.

The other 2 calves are still doing well. We are monitoring the movements of 2 elk on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 3 elk just outside the park boundary. All other elk are in and around the fields in the Cataloochee valley.

Harassment of wildlife continues to be a problem as more visitors come to view the elk. Signs have been put up around the edges of the fields warning visitors not to approach the animals.

Jennifer Lynn Murrow


June 25, 2001 - IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For Information:
Nancy Gray 865/436-1208
Bob Miller 865/436-1207

FIRST ELK TO BE BORN IN THE SMOKIES


Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials reported exciting news with the birth of a 40-pound male elk calf, the first to be born in the Smokies in over 150 years and the first to be delivered by the eight pregnant cow elk in the herd. The calf was evidently born on Friday, June 22, but was not located until Sunday evening hidden in a blackberry thicket close to the meadows in Cataloochee Valley.

The University of Tennessee graduate student who is conducting on-site monitoring of the experimental elk release project began searching for the newborn after being alerted on Friday by ejection of transmitter implant from the female cow. All the pregnant female elk were implanted with transmitters in the birth canal to help biologists know when the calves were born. Biologists believed earlier that 9 of the 12 females in the herd were pregnant, but learned later that there are only 8 pregnant cows.

Saturday morning the researchers, using telemetry devices, located the implant transmitter and the apparent site of the delivery, but it took another day and a half of searching to locate the calf. The calf was found about 1/3 of a mile from the site of the delivery. According to Park Wildlife Biologist Kim Delozier cow elk typically move their newborn calves some distance from the site of delivery as a survival mechanism. "Elk calves are most vulnerable to predators in the first few days after birth and the mothers will distance them from the birthing site which could attract predators."

Biologists placed an expandable radio collar on the new calf to help them learn about the survival rate in the wild, an important part of the 5-year experimental project. The animals in the Smokies experiment all came from a wild herd at Land between the Lakes in Kentucky where they have not been exposed to bears or other potential predators.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Michael J. Tollefson said, "We are pleased with this announcement and the success of the elk experiment to date. We ask that the public be good stewards and not to approach the elk, particularly female elk with calves which are known to charge people in defense of their offspring and will probably rejoin the herd in a couple of weeks."

-NPS-

Media Advisory: Still photographs of the newborn will be available this afternoon by contacting the Public Affairs Office. Opportunities to see newborn calves in Cataloochee are expected to be virtually non-existent until they emerge with their mothers into the meadows of Cataloochee Valley.




4/25/2001 GSMNP ELK Progress Report VI

All elk are doing well. Since the last report we have observed some major changes in social groups. Specifically, the 2 main herds have now merged, and 19-24 elk are together at any given time. The only exception is Elk #5, who continues to maintain a solitary existence. She has been a loner ever since we brought her to the holding facility. I walked in on her on 4/23/01 and she appears to be doing fine. There was fresh sign and tracks were she had been foraging and bedding.

Last week Elk #17 dropped his collar. On 4/24/01, we successfully darted him and he went down with relative ease. His radio-collar was put back on and he was reversed without incident. This was the first time we have had to dart an elk in the wild in Cataloochee and the experience went wonderfully. There has been 1 reported account of elk moving up on Cataloochee divide and 1 reported account of elk just outside of the Park. I have been tracking elk almost everyday, and have never located elk outside or near the boundary of the Park. As of 4/25/01, all elk were within 2 miles of the holding facility in the meadows of Cataloochee.

Jennifer

Jennifer Lynn Murrow
UTK Graduate Student: Elk/Black Bear Research
jmurrow@utk.edu
(865)974-0202/(865) 974-0739







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