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Tracking the Elk

The elk population in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is health and growing.  Rangers know that because they track them by radio collars they wear.

News 13's Rex Hodge tagged along as rangers collared an bull elk this morning with the help a communications company.

Rangers in the Cataloochee Valley get ready to take aim at one of the main focuses of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with tranquilizer darts.

"On impact when it hits, the pin drives forward, hits a little primer, sets off a small charge, sends the plunger forward, blows the drug out of the dart."

Ranger Joe Yarkovich says since the elk were reintroduced to the park in 2001, they've grown in number to about 120. 

They know that and their survival, reproduction, and dispersal rates by tracking them with radio collars.  Immobilizing them the only way to get the collars on.

Joe Yarkovich, park ranger, "when we do need to dart one or tranquilize one we do everything we can to minimize stress on the animal."

At first all elk in the park were collared, now just enough for accurate sampling.

The radios will transmit the elks' location for a good 7 to 8 years.  While the elk is asleep, rangers work quickly to secure the collar, and tag him.

Patti Michel, Charter, "we funded the program through Friends of the Smokies to be able to facilitate this radio telemetry program for the elk."

The radio collars come with a cost.  Charter Communications contributing more than $13,000 for 15 radios and a couple transmitters.

Jim Hart, Friends of the Smokies, "find it very satisfying to have a healthy elk herd.  Our job is to help maintain that by giving them the supplies they need."

The radio transmitters remain one of the most useful tools in tracking elk.  The information gained is used for both their long and short term management.


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