GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN, N.C. – It's a rather quiet time at Grandfather Mountain this time of year, when families and tourists spend most time at home surrounded by loved ones for the holidays.
For Emma Noto and the rest of the Animal Habitat team, it's been a busy couple of weeks.
Grandfather Mountain just welcomed three new residents to its wildlife habitat: A herd of bull elk hauling from a private breeder in Central North Carolina.
WFMY News 2 Digital Reporter Laura Brache visited Grandfather Mountain to meet the elk and learn a little about the history of the region.
I found that although the three elk are new to the park's habitat, it used to be the stomping grounds of the animals' ancestors centuries ago.
“Elk were once found in this area and around the European settlement is when their numbers started dwindling,” Noto said.
It's been hundreds of years, but the animals used to rule the lands as shown in the names of some of the nearby towns and landmarks, like Banner Elk, Elk Park and Elk River Falls.
According to Brenda Lyerly, Mayor of the Town of Banner Elk, the town's name comes from the early settlers of the town, the Banners from Wales, who were known to have hunted the animals.
“The Banners were the bannermen for the English, so they migrated to Philadelphia and then came to the Elk Valley, here, and it became Banner's Elk, but over the years the possessive was dropped and it's just Banner Elk,” Lyerly shared.
Unfortunately, over-hunting and loss of habitat in the 18th and 19th centuries caused the species to be eradicated from the region.
Noto pointed out that national parks across Eastern states have been reintroducing elk into the wilderness.
“It's really great to have them back up here, and a lot of elk have been released into Eastern states as well, so hopefully, even eventually, those elk will be out here in the wild,” Noto said.
The three elk, named Doc, Merle and Watson after the historic country duo, are living in the renovated habitat of the park's former white tail deer.
At first, the curators were concerned the elk wouldn't adapt so easily to their new home, but to their surprise, it's been all the opposite.
“The original idea was to keep them in that shifting paddock for a couple of days, let them get used to that, and then let them out into the main habitat,” Noto said. “They were so calm the whole ride, we ended up being able to let them out into the habitat immediately which ended up being better for them” she added.
Noto and much of the Habitat team hasn't ever worked with elk, so the learning process and changes are mutual.
“You have to be really intuitive with wild animals, you really learn a lot about the species in general,” she says. “The elk is really fun for me because I haven't known a lot about them and, so, I'm learning something new.”
If you'd like to welcome the elk to their new home or wish the rest of the animals a Happy Holidays, you can buy them a gift off their Animal Enrichment Wish List on Amazon.
You can also adopt an animal through the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation to help improve their lives.
Noto says that until more elk fill the region, “For now, this will be a great place for people to come out and see them.”
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