American bison
October 30, 2023

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to a wide range of plants and animals. Over the years, however, a number of animals native to the Smoky Mountains have been eradicated due to hunting, trapping, loss of habitat, and other causes, and they no longer exist in the national park. This local extinction is called extirpation. Here’s a list of five Smoky Mountain animals that have been extirpated and no longer live here.

1. Eastern Cougar

Eastern Cougar

The eastern cougar, also known as a mountain lion, puma, or panther, is the largest feline in North America. Eastern cougars are large, sleek cats with small heads. Their body is generally a solid tan color with white underside, though there can be some reddish, grayish, or yellowish tinges. Their ears are small and rounded with no tufts of hair. The muzzle is mostly white with black where it joins the head. The eastern cougar is one of the Smoky Mountain animals that used to live in the area but was extirpated due to overhunting and habitat loss. The species is now officially extinct and there haven’t been any eastern cougars living in the area since the early 1900s.

2. American Bison

The American bison, also casually referred to as the American buffalo, is a species of bison native to North America. An adult male can reach 5.5 to 6.5 feet in height and 9 to 12.5 feet in length, with a weight of 1,800 to 2,400 pounds. The bison is the largest terrestrial animal in North America. The number of bison in the Smoky Mountain area was never large, but they used to be present in some numbers. However, this large animal was hunted to extirpation by the late 1700s. Now, bison can primarily be found in the western United States, especially in protected locations like national parks.

3. Red Wolf

red wolf

The red wolf is also known as America’s wolf because it is the only species that lived entirely within the borders of the United States without extending into neighboring countries. For decades, there was a price on these animals’ heads and bounties were paid to kill these predators that hurt agricultural operations. The red wolf was put on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list in 1967 after the species was nearly eradicated. In 1991, the FWS tried to reintroduce the red wolf to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Around 40 pups were born in the wild in the national park, but none of them would survive due to disease and starvation. Eventually, these Smoky Mountain animals interbred with coyotes and the remaining red wolves were recaptured. No red wolves are left in the Smokies.

4. Gray Wolf

Another species of wolf that used to live in the Smoky Mountains is the gray wolf. The gray wolf used to roam the area in fair numbers, but the species became increasingly less common as more land was settled. It’s thought that the gray wolf existed in the remote sections of the Smoky Mountains until the late 1800s or early 1900s. An adult gray wolf is the largest wild canine and is usually mottled gray in color but can also be black or white. The gray wolf is larger than the red wolf, weighing 45 to 100 pounds with a length of 50 to 65 inches. Deliberate extermination removed these Smoky Mountain animals from the area and they can now primarily be found in the northernmost parts of the U.S. and throughout Canada.

5. Fisher

fisher in tree

The fisher is a small, carnivorous mammal native to North America. This animal is a member of the mustelid family, making it a relative of the weasel and mink. The fisher is sometimes referred to as a fisher cat, which is misleading because it is not a feline. This mammal has a long, thin body, short legs with retractable claws, bushy tail, and broad head with a pointed snout. The fisher averages about 31 to 41 inches in length and weighs 3 to 18 pounds. Fishers are great swimmers and climbers, and contrary to their name do not actually hunt fish. These animals have few predators besides humans, who trapped them for their fur for centuries. Because their furs were in such high demand, they were eventually extirpated from the Smoky Mountains in the early 1900s.

More About Smoky Mountain Animals

Now you know about a few Smoky Mountain animals that no longer live in the national park. Even though the balance of wildlife in the Smoky Mountains is very diverse, it’s also delicate. That’s why it’s important to treat all wildlife with respect and keep your distance so the animals that still live in the national park can continue to thrive. If you see wildlife in the Smoky Mountains, make sure you follow these wildlife viewing safety tips for both the safety of yourself and our Smoky Mountain animals.