GSMNP responds to criticism about euthanizing an elk

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT)-- Many are outraged after an elk was euthanized.

But park officials say they did it to protect the public.

And while feeding a wild animal may seem cute -- it could be life threatening.

Dana Soehn, Spokesperson for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park says this isn't the first incident they've had with that elk.

"We've been working with that elk since before that incident with the photographer happened unfortunately, that's when we learned that he had crossed that line of contact."

When an animal is fed by a human it then associates food with humans, which is when they become aggressive.

"They are wild animals, they're unpredictable, and you never know when that behavior is going to escalate and it could've potentially been a very dangerous situation for the next person who encounters that elk."

Park officials say they tried several different avenues before they euthanized the animal.

"We use loud noises, we might shoot bean bags at them, even dart them and move them and hopefully continue to make that an uncomfortable experience so they're not coming in those human interaction zones," says Soehn.

"Unfortunately, that elk was not responsive to any of those adverse techniques that we use," she says.

The elk was then considered an unacceptable risk to the public.

"We do everything we can before we reach that last alternative, it's the last tool that we have, we haven't had to put down any bears this year, and we continually try to get on the front end. We work with the public to try and keep the animals from being in this situation."

She says if the public had not fed this elk, there may have been a different outcome.

"The last thing we want is for our wildlife to be attracted to the road where they could be hit by a car or be tempted by a handout and become food conditioned."

They considered moving the animal but there are certain government regulations you must meet to do that. You must have the animal's past history and when it's a wild animal it is hard to get that type of information.

It's also prime mating season for elk and deer so these animals are even more unpredictable during this time of the year than others.

If you ever run into a wild animal the park has given us some tips.

• Do not feed elk! Dispose of all garbage or food scraps in wildlife-proof garbage containers or take it with you.

• Keep your distance from elk. Do not approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of an elk. If an elk approaches you, it is your responsibility to back away slowly to provide space for the animal to pass.

• Use binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with telephoto lenses to enjoy wildlife.

• If you see another visitor breaking these rules, please call (865) 436-1230 or stop at a Visitor Center to report it.

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