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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - On Friday, February 2, 26 elk will arrive at an acclimation pen in the Cataloochee Valley, marking the beginning of a five-year experimental elk reintroduction. The elk are being relocated from the Land Between the Lakes on the Kentucky-Tennessee border to the temporary pen where they will spend eight to ten weeks before being radio collared and released roam the park freely. The elk will be closely monitored by biologists from the University of Tennessee and the U.S. Geological Survey, to assess movements, habitat use, food preferences and overall health. Plans to relocate 25 more elk in both 2002 and 2003 will bring the total to 76 animals. The elk have been certified free of brucellosis and tuberculosis. The LBL herd originated from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada, whose disease-monitoring program to ensure the health of its animals is long-established. According to Smokies Superintendent Mike Tollefson, "One of the primary roles of our national parks is to preserve, and sometimes restore natural processes and biological diversity. Where it is feasible, that may mean reintroducing species that were historically part of an ecosystem, but were eradicated by human development. The purpose of this experimental release is to determine if conditions are favorable for elk to reassume their historic role in the Smokies ecosystem." In the interest of reducing disturbance and protecting the elk while they are in captivity, the acclimation pen site will be posted as off-limits to visitor use. The pen itself is covered with an opaque material to reduce the chances of elk injuring themselves by running into the fence, and to prevent viewing from the outside. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has previously provided support for elk reintroductions and relocations in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ontario, and is funding elk reintroduction feasibility studies in New York, Missouri and Virginia. "Where suitable habitat and public support exist, the Elk Foundation has teamed up with various state and federal agencies to restore elk herds to their historic ranges and fill voids in many landscapes," said John Mechler, Kentucky and Tennessee regional director for the Elk Foundation. "The return of elk stirs up new enthusiasm for wildlife and conservation, and offers excellent opportunities for conservation education." The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has committed $466,000 to the first four years of the program. The Richard King Mellon Foundation has directed a $100,000 grant to the Elk Foundation to help meet the funding goal, and the Elk Foundation has kicked off a fundraising initiative to pay for future research and management costs deemed necessary by the Park. Other project partners in the reintroduction include the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is an international, nonprofit conservation organization whose mission is to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat. Founded in 1984, the Foundation now has 120,000 members who have helped generate the funds to conserve and enhance 3 million acres of wildlife habitat across North America. To learn more about the Elk Foundation, visit , or phone 1-800 CALL ELK

Uploaded: 1/31/2001