An animal that was extinct in the North Carolina mountains for more than 200 years has re-emerged as a potential threat to drivers on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Big, angry elk.
“Adult elk seen along the Parkway and in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can weigh between 500 and 700 pounds and have been known to charge in order to defend themselves,” the National Park Service wrote in an Oct. 4 Facebook post.
“If you see an elk on the Parkway please keep your distance in order to maintain their safety and your own.”
Examples of car-vs.-elk incidents on the parkway were not reported, but crashes have happened elsewhere in North Carolina, including a July 2018 wreck on Interstate 26 in Henderson County. That’s 40 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains.
Elk grow bigger than black bears: up to 10 feet long and 5 feet tall at the shoulders, and the antlers on males can grow 5 feet wide, the National Park Service says.
Both males and females are known to charge if they perceive a threat, experts say.
The park service included a photo with its Facebook post, showing a bull elk as tall as a car crossing Heinent Spur Road near the parkway’s 458 mile post.
Elk were decimated in the state “by over-hunting and loss of habitat,” according to the National Park Service. It’s believed the last elk in North Carolina was killed in the late 1700s, officials said.
Fifty-two elk were reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 and 2002, and the growing population soon strayed beyond the park’s boundaries.
“They can now be seen in the southernmost portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway and in some neighboring communities,” officials said last week.
Among the Western North Carolina towns that have seen an elk invasion is Cherokee, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Earlier this year, Cherokee Rapids Tube Rentals posted a one-minute video showing a herd of 20 elk taking over one of Cherokee’s busiest roads in the middle of the day.
“They are seen regularly throughout Cherokee and come and go as they please,” the company said.