Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bugle boys of the Cataloochee

More than five years ago, I stood in the rain beneath dripping rhododendron leave and watched as a small herd of 15 elk -- 10 cows, four calves and one old 12-point bull --grazed in a lovely little pasture in the Cataloochee Valley up in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These were not native elk. They were hunted to extinction long ago. These were transplants, brought in from Kentucky, Tennessee and Canada in hopes of reestablishing the presence of elk. It was touch and go for a while. In 2001, 26 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee; the next year, 27 elk came from the Elk Island National Park in Canada.
The Asheville Citizen-Times reported the other day that the number of elk has almost doubled despite predators such as bears, and the population of elk in the Cataloochee now stands at an estimated 95. Here's a link to Nancy Bompey's story -- headlined "Bugle boys" -- in the Citizen-Times.

On that day in 2003 we had hoped to hear the elks bugling, but the only action was the old bull's slow, deliberate rise to his feet and saunter in our direction when a couple of the calves began wondering our way. The old bull neatly cut them off and herded them back to the other side of the family, but it was still a majestic sight to see. It's worth the long drive just to see these big animals -- up to 1,000 pounds for the bulls, 800 or so for cows -- as they roam the lovely mountain valley. It sounds like they've having a pretty good year.


Anonymous said...

They were "wandering" your way, not "wondering" your way, though I am sure they were "wondering" what you were doing there.

Anonymous said...

Wow Jack, two paragraphs, two errors.

Your "leaves" are missing an "s", much to the surprise of my wondering eyes...

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