Some species that have disappeared from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over the past two centuries are finding their way back again, thanks to restoration efforts of park rangers and wildlife lovers.
While the reintroduction of elk has claimed most of the attention, here’s a look at others that have made a final stand in the Smokies.
Since the arrival of European settlers in the Smokies, the river otter were sought by trappers for the fur trade. The animals that were once common all over the park were eventually trapped and hunted to extinction in the area. Reintroduction efforts began in the Smokies in 1986 with more than 100 otters released over a decade.
Peregrine falcons, known for their lightening speeds of up to 200 miles per hour and deadly talons, disappeared from the Smokies — and nearly from the face of North America — due to exposure to the harmful pesticide DDT before it was banned. As part of a captive breeding and recovery program, more than 6,000 were released nationwide, including many in the park during the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Only one of the Smokies’ reintroductions has failed, that of the endangered Red Wolf. Red Wolves were close to extinction in the late 1970s, with none left in the wild and only 30 in a captive-breeding program. Several pairs were released in the Smokies in the early 1990s. Pup survival rate was poor, however, and adults had trouble finding enough to eat given competition from coyotes. After eight years, the park decided it could not support a wolf population and removed the few that were left.