Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States. They were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting groups and other conservation organizations became concerned the species was headed for extinction.
In early 2001, the first elk set foot into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since the turn of the 19th century. This was the beginning of an experiment to see if an elk herd could sustain itself in the area after about a 200- year absence.