Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Memorial Fund for Elk No. 21 of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

November 23, 2009, 6:25 am

He was known simply as Elk No. 21, an icon of bull elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park - one of the biggest in the valley, said park spokesman Bob Miller.

On Friday morning, Nov. 13, Elk No. 21 was shot and killed by a poacher in Cataloochee Valley.

A memorial fund has been set up in remembrance of Elk No. 21 - and money collected will go toward supporting and protecting elk in the Smokies.

National Park Service officials, going on vehicle descriptions and a tag number provided by park visitors, say they tracked a suspect to his home in Granville County, N.C. The suspect confessed to killing the bull elk, and Miller said the suspect's name will be released when charges are filed with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

A charge of poaching within a national park carries a sentence of up to six months in jail, $5,000 in fines and forfeiture of the weapon and vehicle used in the crime.

Elk No. 21 was the first to be poached in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since 52 elk were released in 2001. There are now about 105 elk in the park.

"This is striking because we've had elk here since 2001, and this is the first poaching incident," Miller said. "People thought this would happen when the elk were released. It hasn't, though, because they're so popular and visible. Somebody's always watching."

The Elk Bugle Corps have contributed a lot to crowd control and educating visitors about elk, Miller said. This group of volunteers started assisting park rangers in 2007, telling visitors how to safely view the elk and helping with parking and traffic.

"They're out there every evening from May to the end of breeding season," Miller said. "If they see people out in the field, they point out to them that they're in danger. We want people to keep their distance from the elk."

Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which helped support the elk reintroduction project, has started a memorial fund in remembrance of Elk No. 21. YourSmokies.com contributed $1,000 to start the fundraising efforts, and an additional $705 had been contributed as of Friday.

Donations will help support the activities of the Elk Bugle Corps in Cataloochee in 2010. Friends of the Smokies has committed $5,000 for the project.

To donate, visit http://shop.friendsofthesmokies.org/elk.html or call Friends at 865-932-4794 or 1-800-845-5665.