Sunday, April 08, 2001

Elk freed to roam Smokies

The Associated Press

        KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The first elk to roam the Great Smoky Mountains in almost two centuries are now on their own.

        Twenty-five elk brought two months ago from the Land Between the Lakes preserve on the western Tennessee-Kentucky border were freed last week from a three-acre acclimation pen in the Cataloochee Valley area of the national park.

        The gate was gently opened and the animals were allowed to walk out. Wildlife officials say they hope this “soft release” is less stressful on the elk and will encourage them to remain inside the park.

        “Monday's release from the pen went exactly as we had hoped it would,” park biologist Kim DeLozier said. “The elk noticed the open gate by about 9 a.m., but they came out very cautiously rather than like a jailbreak.”

        Mr. DeLozier said the animals didn't venture out until 5:30 p.m., and then stayed out only about an hour before something startled them and they ran back inside.

        However, he was pleased to see that “when they did emerge, they moved as a group rather than scattering in different directions.”

        How the animals adapt both to native black bears and people in the country's most-visited national park will be studied as part of a five-year, $1 million reintroduction project.


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