And I used to wonder what it would be like to hike through the Smokies and encounter things like timber wolves and fishers, bison and elk, mountain lions and beaver. From time to time I would hear some people talk of reintroducing some of these creatures into the Park, but I never heard any concrete plans to do so.
However, eventually, the Park Service did create and implement an action that resulted in the reintroduction of elk. They chose Cataloochee Valley to be the initial site for this and began to bring in and acclimatize the big deer. I will never forget the first time I drove into Cataloochee hoping to spot some elk and doing exactly that, seeing a couple of big bulls at the edge of the forest and the field, standing there on the verge where I was able to snap a few grainy photos with my first digital camera back in 2005.
I still enjoy going to Cataloochee to spot the elk. It remains the best place to see them, as the core of the burgeoning herds still call it home. I speak to people who encounter them in other parts of the Park, so they are spreading out. Eventually, I hope they begin to move out in all directions as the population increases and that they will spread into other parts of the southern Appalachians--perhaps even to my home state of Georgia. That would be something to see.
In meantime, it would be nice to see the return of some of the other great animals missing from the ecological web of the southern Appalachians. The fisher has been successfully reintroduced to West Virginia. Maybe they could naturally return to the Smokies. Perhaps mountain lions could come back to the southeast. While it would be great to see bison also come back, the facts on the ground there would make it difficult. The Park is surrounded by suburban sprawl and I doubt that local people would agree with having to deal with such a large animal parading through neighborhoods and onto streets and lawns. But it would be grand.
|This guy was in charge. He had a couple of scars on his right flank, probably from past duels.|
|A couple of cows.|
|Whenever I see elk herds or whitetail deer herds in the Park, I also see flocks of wild turkey.|
|On the move.|
|The bull was concentrating on courting this particular cow. I suppose she was the one most open to mating.|
|The herd here was large. Dozens of elk, mainly cows.|
|The big bull tolerated a couple of young spike bucks in the field. Not sure why, unless he didn't look upon them as anything approaching a threat.|