Great Smokies elk herd adapts, learns to fend off predators

Jun 18 2011 - 4:26pm

When Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials began introducing elk a decade ago, biologists thought coyotes would be the herd's main predator.

But with every calving season, black bears proved to be a bigger problem.

In 2005, the park documented the first cases of black bears searching the fields of Cataloochee Valley to prey on newborn elk. The problem got so bad that from 2006 through 2008, wildlife officials trapped bears that were active in Cataloochee and released them at the west end of the Smokies -- far enough so that by the time the bears made their way back to their home range, the elk calves were old enough to fend for themselves.Today, park officials no longer trap and relocate bears from Cataloochee during the calving season, yet calf survival continues to improve.

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