Euthanasia Of Elk Last Resort
A bull elk was euthanized by Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers after a video of it head-butting a photographer went viral.
Rangers say the animal was aggressive because it's mating season and because visitors had been feeding him.
They say it was their last choice to put the elk down.
"We've had elk in the park for 12 years now and this is the first time we've had an elk make aggressive contact with a human," saID Ranger Joe Yarkovich.
They had tried scaring him off.
"Between September 24th and November14th, we worked that animal 29 different occasions, using bean bag rounds, paint balls, catching him, tagging him and releasing him on site," said Yarkovich.
But Yarkovich says nothing changed the young bull's behavior during rut season.
"Really high testosterone levels. They're really defensive of their harems. They're really aggressive towards anything they see as a threat," said Yarkovich.
He says the elk's behavior was the result of him losing fear of humans.
"So it is a two-fold problem where he had been fed and had gotten accustomed to people and literally engaged that photographer," said Yarkovich.
Yarkovich emphasizes the lesson is to not feed the wildlife and keep your distance.
"Any kind of feeding anything like this is a misdemeanor charge under our code of Federal regulations and they can be fined up to $5,000 and six months in jail," said Yarkovich.
Yarkovich says many comments on social media wondered about placing the elk in a refuge.
"There's a really intensive disease monitoring program these facilities have to go through. And if they were to take an animal out of the wild they would basically lose that credibility as a Chronic Wasting Disease-free facility," said Yarkovich.
Yarkovich says accredited zoos already have mature bull elks that would lead to the death of the younger one if introduced into the same area.
In addition to not feeding the wildlife, rangers remind visitors to stay 50 yards away. If an elk approaches, back away slowly.
By Rex Hodge
Follow Rex on Twitter @RexHodgeWLOS