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Wandering elk captured, moved from mountains to Lowcountry nature preserve

Elk sighting in South Carolina caught on video

An elk that had roamed the mountains and Upstate of South Carolina has been captured and sent to a Lowcountry nature preserve.
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An elk that had roamed the mountains and Upstate of South Carolina has been captured and sent to a Lowcountry nature preserve.

COLUMBIA, SC An elk that wandered into South Carolina’s mountains has been captured and moved to a nature park near Charleston, where it will go on public display in a fenced area.

The 500-pound elk, a rarity in South Carolina, had been the talk of Upstate communities after it was spotted in late October near S.C. 11, the scenic mountain highway. The beast had roamed in and out of neighborhoods, allowing residents to come close enough to offer food.

Some folks were so taken by the elk that they had begun calling it “Prancer,’’ for the mythical Christmas reindeer.

Now, the elk will be a featured attraction at Charles Towne Landing, a state nature center that has an array of animals native to South Carolina. Animals at Charles Towne Landing are kept in open, fenced areas. The elk taken there last week will be put on display after state officials decide the animal is ready for public viewing.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources said the move was best for the elk and for the public. Although elk have been reintroduced in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, the one found in Pickens, Oconee and Greenville counties seemed to have lost its fear of people, DNR officials said Wednesday. It had not hurt anyone, but it’s always a concern when wild animals get too attached to humans, officials said.

“This elk is a wild animal and not domesticated,” DNR biologist Tammy Wactor said in a news release. “It has become accustomed to people, so it will allow people to approach it, but it is unpredictable, and this behavior can create dangerous situations.”

DNR biologists suspect the animal moved into South Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, although they say it could have been a pet that escaped. The elk had previously been spotted in the Franklin, N.C., area before showing up in South Carolina, Wactor said.

Biologists shot the elk with a tranquilizer dart Dec. 16 in a neighborhood not far from Devils Fork State Park, the DNR news release said.

Cydney Phillips, an Oconee County resident, said she cried when wildlife officials tranquilized the elk and hauled it away. The elk frequented her backyard and played with a neighbor’s pet donkey, Phillips said.

“They would just play around in the field like a couple of puppies,’’ Phillips said. “I think he was here to help educate us on what we have lost, and that we can live with wild animals. He was a majestic being.’’

Elk are larger cousins to deer, with some animals weighing more than 700 pounds and standing 5 feet at the shoulder. They are native to South Carolina’s mountains, but disappeared from the region hundreds of years ago after European settlers moved into the area. The demise of elk in the southern Appalachians is believed to be because of hunting and historical habitat losses, according to DNR officials.

Federal officials are trying to re-establish elk populations in the southeastern mountains, but have not sought to do so in South Carolina.

Wactor said her agency would have to decide how to proceed if other elk move into the state from North Carolina. If and when they do show up, she said she doubts the agency would try to relocate them if the elk stay in remote areas away from people’s homes.

How the animal caught last week will fare in captivity in an area of the state far from his native range is unknown. But elk in other parts of the country live in coastal areas and in places with higher temperatures than in the mountains, said Mark Holyoak, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula, Mont.

“They’re in places where it’s really hot and they’re in places where it is really cold,’’ he said. “Generally speaking, they can pretty much handle anything.’’

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