PICKENS, SC – South Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution on May 23, 1788, just as wild elk were disappearing from the state’s lush upstate forests.
It turns out that all it took to end the 200-plus-year absence was a search for female companionship.
A bull elk, an animal not seen in the Palmetto State since the late 1700s, has been spotted in upstate South Carolina, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).
The young elk is believed to be from a herd in North Carolina that was pushed across the border by bigger bull elks, the agency says. Officials believe he will find his way back when he realizes there are no female elk around.
The young elk was first seen Friday in rural Pickens County, and has been subsequently spotted at least four times.
Rondi Capps frequently spies bears, wild hogs and turkeys near her rural Pickens County home, but seeing a 700-pound elk stride across her property was a new experience altogether.
“It was majestic to say the least,” Capps told CNN. “He was just hanging out in our yard for a good while. He wasn’t bothered by us or our dogs.”
Overhunting and habitat loss eliminated wild elk from South Carolina more than 200 years ago, SCDNR spokeswoman Kyndel McConchie told CNN. Elk disappeared from Tennessee and North Carolina about the same time.
The animal was reintroduced in the North Carolina portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001, and this particular elk is believed to be a runaway from that herd.
Since their reintroduction 15 years ago, the Great Smoky Mountains population has grown to an estimated 150 elk, according to SCDNR.
Capps tells CNN the visiting elk has caused quite a commotion.
“Our neighbors and a few passersby stopped and watched him for the longest time,” Capps said. “He was not bothered by our presence, which made me assume that he had to come from a reserve of some sort.”
Officials are cautioning against interacting with the elk, despite the animal’s seemingly calm demeanor.
“People get a false sense of security, because elk don’t mind being approached,” said Justin McVey, a wildlife biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “All it would take is for that elk to swing its antlers, and it could really hurt somebody.”