While black bears get most of the attention in the Smoky Mountains, elk is another notable creature that can be found in the region.
And if you see an elk in the Great Smoky Mountains, consider yourself lucky. These nearly-eliminated species can be a rare find.
But if you’re like me, sometimes you’ve excitedly pointed at wildlife and said, “Look it’s a …” before verbally trailing off in shame of not knowing what creature you spotted.
Here’s some clarification the differences between elk, moose and deer, along with some fun facts about these amazing creatures:
8. Elk were once headed for extinction
According to the National Park Service (NPS), while elk once roamed the Appalachian mountains, they were eliminated from the region from over-hunting and loss of habitat in the 1700s-1800s.
The NPS reintroduced elk into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as recently as 2001 and then again in 2002.
A total of 52 elk were released in the park.
7. How many elk are in the Smoky Mountains?
While it’s hard to say exactly, there are at least 150 elk that roam the Smokies.
Kim Delozier, retired NPS biologist, was quoted in an interview with WBIR saying that it’s hard to know exactly how many elk there are in the park today, but it’s likely 150-plus.
That interview was in 2019, so it’s safe to assume that the number is higher now.
6. Is an elk a moose?
Elk, deer and moose are all part of the Cervidae family, which is probably why they are sometimes confused with one another.
But the short answer to this question is no, an elk is not a moose.
The most distinctive differential here is size.
Elk are large, with females weighing about 500 lbs and males weighing about 700 lbs.
But moose are huge.
Most sources say that a moose can weigh between 1,000-1,500 lbs.
But if you’re in the Great Smoky Mountains debating between a moose and an elk, it’s an elk.
5. Is an elk a deer?
While you’ll see both deer and elk in the Smoky Mountains region, the easiest way to tell them apart is, again, size.
Deer are much smaller than elk, weighting up to about 300 lbs (roughly half the size of elk).
Deer are also much more commonly spotted in the Smoky Mountains, especially in areas such as Cades Cove.
If the animal has a white patch on their neck, it’s safe to say that you’re looking at a deer.
4. Can an elk and a moose mate?
Well, not in the Smoky Mountains, since they are not both in this region.
But in areas where they come in contact with each other, like northern North America, it appears that some moose-elk hybrids occasionally occur, according to this article.
3. Which is bigger: An elk or a black bear?
OK, so we established that moose are bigger than elk and elk are bigger than deer.
But where does a black bear fall on the scale?
Believe it or not elk are actually larger than black bears.
The range is usually between 175-500 lbs for black bears, and 500-700 lbs for elk.
It’s all the more reason to keep your distance from these animals!
2. Do elk have antlers?
Elk do have antlers, and male elk (bulls) often use them to spar with other bulls.
In the spring, elk actually shed their antlers, which are then eaten by small animals, according to the NPS.
And while I’m not sure who needs to hear this, it is illegal to remove antlers from the national park.
1. When is the best time to see an elk?
Elk are most active during cooler parts of the day, in the early morning or late evening.
They are most commonly spotted along Cataloochee Valley on the North Carolina side of the mountains.
Remember, it is illegal to approach an elk within 150 feet or any distance that disturbs the elk.
Have you seen an elk in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!