Tragedy Strikes: Habituation to Humans Ends in Young Elk’s Death in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Many of you have already seen the video (going viral) showing a young male elk (spike) interacting with a photographer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This young elk was play-sparring with a man who had been photographing wildlife in the park. Normally, wildlife will not approach humans but, in this case, the elk had learned to associate food with humans and became habituated. Sadly, the park service concluded that the young elk had to be destroyed. This is a tragedy that was entirely avoidable!

Visitors to the national park are warned that feeding wildlife is prohibited! Yet they continue to do so. Visitors to the national park are also warned that “willfully approaching within 50 yards, or any distance that disturbs or displaces elk, is illegal in the park….” (from http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/elk.htm), yet people continue to disregard these federal regulations at the expense of the wildlife they, ironically, have come to the park to admire. This unacceptable disregard must not be permitted to continue! Wildlife is just that, wild. They are not tame. They are not pets. And they most assuredly are not merely present for one’s amusement. They are living, breathing creatures who deserve the very protection the national parks were established to provide. To have an animal killed on national parkland because of the failure of tourists to abide by regulations designed to protect these animals is not only unforgivable, it is unconscionable. The responsibility for this animal’s death lies with EVERY individual who has baited, lured, fed, and approached this animal throughout the course of his prematurely, shortened life. Reflect upon your own behavior and commit to never putting another animal in such jeopardy again.

Please take a moment to learn more about proper wildlife viewing/photographing ethics by reading my article, “WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY PART 1 – CODE OF ETHICS” (http://www.dstappan.com/2010/wildlife-photography-code-of-ethics/)

To see the WBIR news segment, go here: http://www.wbir.com/story/news/2013/11/15/elk-euthanized-after-close-up-encounter-with-photographer/3598353/

Photo Title: Lone Elk (Spike) in the Fog – (Great Smoky Mountains NP)