Elk “traffic jams” are now a thing in western North Carolina’s mountain towns.
After being listed as extinct for more than a century in the state, the elk has not only rebounded, but it has shed any fear of wandering through popular tourist towns.
This month, a video posted on Facebook showed a herd of about 20 elk sauntering down one of Cherokee’s busiest roads in the middle of the day (a Tuesday).
Cherokee Rapids Tube Rentals posted the one-minute video, which has been viewed 87,000 times and shared more than 1,400 times since March 12. Company officials told the Charlotte Observer they recorded the video just after the herd crossed the Oconaluftee River bridge.
“They were heading up Acquoni Road towards downtown Cherokee,” the tubing company told the Charlotte Observer. “They are seen regularly throughout Cherokee and come and go as they please.”
No motorists are seen attempting to use the road as the herd passes. That’s partly because elk are big, standing 5 feet tall at the shoulders and weighing as much as 1,100 pounds, reports National Geographic.
“Holy cow!!! That’s a lot of them and they don’t even care!” wrote Caroline Jessica McGuirt on Facebook.
“This is a regular thing here,” added Ali Waldroup of Bryson City, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Viewers on Facebook noted that the elk didn’t appear to be collared or tagged, indicating just how rapidly the animals have spread since the National Park Service reintroduced them to their “historic range” in the southern Appalachian mountains.
“The last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700s,” says a National Park Service report on elk. “By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting groups and other conservation organizations became concerned the species was headed for extinction.”
Federal biologists freed 25 elk along the Tennessee-Kentucky border in 2001, then brought in 27 more the next year, according to the report.
There are now as many as 200 elk in the state, the Charlotte Observer reported in 2016.
The herds continue to spread out, too, resulting in “traffic jams and headaches for farmers and homeowners trying to keep the elk from eating their gardens and crops,” according to an August 2018 Asheville Citizen-Times article.