Fall is quickly approaching in the Great Smoky Mt National Park and that means lots of wonderful things! One of the first things that comes to mind is the changing of the leaves which brings out brilliant colors and paints the land in rich hues of yellows, golds, oranges and reds. Another thing that comes with fall is the mating season of the elk, also known as the rut (September into early Oct).
The elk were reintroduced in 2001-2002 after a 200 year absence in the Smokies. They are spectacular creatures to behold. The best places to do so in the park are in the Cataloochee Valley or near the Oconoluftee Visitor Center. The best times for viewing are early morning or early evening just before sunset. Fields may be closed during the rut to minimize conflicts between elk and humans.
During the rut the adult male elk (bulls) use a combination of bugling and aggressive behavior in an attempt to dominant over other males. They use their huge antlers to spar with other males in a show of strength. The bugling is a very distinct sound beginning as a deep resonant then increases to a high pitched squeal and ends in a succession of grunts. These bugles can be heard a mile or more away!
To view a video of the elk click here
Seasons of the elk: Spring (March) the male shed their antlers which are calcium rich and quickly eaten by other rodents and other animals. It is illegal to remove the antlers from the park so look don’t touch!
Summer is birthing time with most calves being born in June. The majestic creatures like to roll and wallow in the mud to cover themselves as a deterant to pesty insects. By August the antlers are full grown and have lost their “velvet”.
Fall is the rut as discussed above and the display of aggresive, dominant behaviour and bugling begins.
Winter, the elk wear a two layer coat in colder months with the longer hairs repelling water and the fuzzy undercoat keeps them warm.
It really is quite a treat to view the elk in their natural habitat. Be sure to follow all park rules regarding wildlife viewing for your saftey and that of the animals.