Great Smoky Mountains wildlife biologist reflects on his career

Kim DeLozier
Kim DeLozier

After 32 years of trapping wild hogs, darting nuisance bears and chasing wandering elk, Kim Delozier, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief Wildlife Biologist, is retiring. has an article, describing some of his more interesting memories. Here is an excerpt.

…In the early 1990s, the Smokies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tried unsuccessfully to reintroduce red wolves in the park. None of the wolf pups born in the park survived, and after 10 years, the project came to a halt.

“We couldn’t release enough wolves to out-compete the coyotes in the park,” Delozier said. “You just can’t take a captive animal, open the cage and expect it to make it in the wild.”

In 2001, the park launched an ambitious program to bring elk – a species that hadn’t roamed the mountains since the late 1700s – back to Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina. Delozier said what he remembers most about this successful campaign was the tremendous support from partners like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Friends of the Smokies and the public at large.

“Unlike the wolf reintroduction, bringing elk back to the park was something people genuinely wanted to see happen,” he said.

Delozier’s favorite memory from his three decades on the job? That would be a late afternoon in Cataloochee Valley when he was greeted with the sight of 15 or 20 elk grazing just hours after their release.

And his worst memory? Delozier said that by far it would be May 21, 2000, the day Glenda Ann Bradley, a 50-year-old elementary school teacher from Cosby, was mauled to death by a 112-pound black bear while hiking in the Elkmont section of the park.

In his office, Delozier keeps Bradley’s funeral announcement on the wall. Delozier said even though the bear had no prior record of aggressive behavior, he still felt guilty.

“I feel responsible for all the bears in the park, nomatter what they do, whether they’re good or bad,” he said. “Part of the reason I’m ready to retire is this feeling of responsibility for every pig, elk and bear in the Smokies. You just know when it’s time.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.