A Wild Elk Chase through the Smokies

By Natalie Rothenberg on July 15, 2017.

This past month has been elk calving season here at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was fortunate enough to tag along with the Wildlife Rangers and search for cows giving birth to their young, then take measurements on the newborn calves. One morning last week, I woke up to a text message from a Wildlife Ranger, Nick, explaining that there is a cow giving birth in the field outside of my house. I quickly got out of bed, met up with them in the field and monitored the cow’s movements. She eventually made her way into the trees so we had to search for two hours. We eventually found the cow but her calf was stillborn.

It was a very disheartening experience but Darwin’s, “survival of the fittest” was at the forefront of my mind. Later that afternoon, a Campground Host at Cataloochee Valley called via radio to the Wildlife Rangers explaining that there was a different cow giving birth in the Palmer Barn. I joined Nick to Cataloochee where I witnessed my first calf of the season. Nick used a stick to get the mom out of the barn while a Trails Crew Ranger stood outside the barn with a paintball gun in case she tried to charge. Nick and I documented the calf’s dimensions, weight, and sex, and also applied a tracking collar around her neck. This was an once-in-a-lifetime experience and I enjoyed every second. Not many people get to witness elk, and I was lucky enough to carefully handle and measure a two hour old newborn. I felt incredibly fortunate to take part in this experience and I will never take this day for granted.