A once-in-a-lifetime experience that caught many of our readers in awe has an ending not as happy as the one we saw in the video. To refresh your memory, we recently reported on a viral video of a wildlife photographer getting up close and personal with a young bull elk while taking photos in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A recap of the incredible footage can be found below.
Unfortunately after the video was taken and quickly went viral, news came out that wildlife officials had to euthanize the bull elk, fearful that it had become too used to humans. Park officials got about 100 letters and more than 200 comments on the park’s Facebook page mostly decrying the decision to kill the elk. It was the first euthanized since the herd was reintroduced in 2001.
From the Asheville Citizen-Times:
Park managers were aware of the elk well before the video surfaced, said Joe Yarkovich, a park biologist.
Managers first captured him on Sept. 24 and tried to discourage the elk from approaching people by hazing him dozens of times, including shooting the animal with paint balls and using pepper spray.
They captured him again days later after those methods failed and gave him ear tags.
That same day, he was back begging for food handouts, Yarkovich said.
He said the decision to kill the elk appeared to be a “knee-jerk reaction” to the video but it really wasn’t.
“The video is getting all the attention but what most people don’t realize is the history we had with this,” he said.
Since wildlife officials have revealed the back story of this elk and the issues they are facing with park visitors attempting to feed the animals, thus distrupting the delicate wildlife ecosystem, some who initially complained have written back to the park office to apologize for their reaction, and to support the park’s decision.
Visitors are supposed to remain 50 yards from elk, even when they are on the road. Visitors are not allowed in the field where the elk graze or allowed to “willfully” approach them. Rangers do write tickets every year for those who are caught approaching or feeding animals, though warnings are far more common. When asked how effective their ranger’s policing of the rules are, Ranger Dana Soehn, a park spokeswoman,“We really do depend on the public to act responsibly,”