by Lauren Freedman, SCA Staff
SCA intern Seth Brown “has the best job in the world right now” according to Joe Yarkovich, an elk research coordinator and Seth’s supervisor at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Seth, a 25-year old from nearby Ashville, NC, and Joe, a four-time SCA alumnus, are working together in the Smokies’ Cataloochee Valley on an experimental elk reintroduction program. They track the animals using radio telemetry, provide medical care as necessary, and chart reproduction and survival rates. As most elk calves are born in early June, Seth has had his hands full since starting his internship just a few weeks ago. “We had two births just last night!” he says.
Hunting and loss of habitat wiped out the region’s elk population nearly two centuries ago but in 2001, the park imported 25 elk and added another 27 the following year. Seth notes as many as two dozen calves may be born this year but they will face another threat: predatory black bears.
To boost survival rates, park biologists trapped several black bears just prior to the calving season and relocated them to an area some 40 miles away from the elk herd. By the time the bears return, the calves will be strong enough to defend themselves.
“We’ve got one cow who has claw marks down her side,” Seth notes. “Last year, she lost her calf to bears, but it looks like this year she’s learning to protect herself.” Seth excuses himself to resume his patrol in an area on the southeast side of the park where elk commonly feed. His internship, he says, is keeping him busy.
“I live right here in the park,” Seth states. “There’s no internet or cell phone service. I don’t have a calendar. Half the time I don’t know what day it is!” The smile on his face makes it very clear he’s not complaining.