South Carolina

In Pickens County, first elk sighting in state for centuries

For the first time since the Upstate was Cherokee territory, a wild elk has been seen roaming the woodlands of South Carolina.

Northern Pickens County is abuzz with sightings of the bull elk, whose wanderings are being traced on social media.

It’s not the species that once inhabited this area but more likely one that found himself ousted by the dominant males of a herd of Rocky Mountain elk that have been re-established in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said noted outdoorsman and Pickens County resident Dennis Chastain.

“This is a historic moment that some of us knew would eventually come,” Chastain said. “This is the first wild elk to roam the woods and wild places in South Carolina since they disappeared in the early 1700's.”

DNR is warning people not to approach the elk.

“People get a false sense of security, because elk don’t mind being approached,” said Justin McVey, a wildlife biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “But they are still wild animals and can be very dangerous. All it would take is for that elk to swing its antlers, and it could really hurt somebody.”

Tammy Wactor, a wildlife biologist with SCDNR, said the young bull elk may weigh up to 700 pounds, and she urges motorists to be careful driving on roads in the area where the animal has been seen, especially at sunrise and sunset.

The first official sighting of the elk was on Friday at Camp McCall, a South Carolina Baptist Convention camp on U.S. 178 in northern Pickens County. On Saturday, it was seen at the Sunset Post Office on State 11, and on Sunday in the Nine Times Community, also in northern Pickens County. On Sunday, it also was seen at The Reserve at Lake Keowee golf course, which is near State 133 in Sunset.

Numerous social media postings have been made with photos of the elk, some with people feeding the animal, DNR said.

Chastain, who is also a local historian, said, it’s “Unlikely that the woodland buffalo and red wolf, or the Carolina parakeet, the passenger pigeon or the Eastern cougar will ever be restored in Pickens County, but it is pretty cool see the mountain elk come home after 300 years missing in action.”