Biologists estimate that 1,800 American Black Bears live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Gary Carter Photo) Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains some of the largest tracts of wilderness in the East and is a critical sanctuary for a wide variety of animals. Protected in the park are some 66 species of mammals, over 200 varieties of birds, 50 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians. The symbol of the Smokies, the American Black Bear, is perhaps the most famous resident of the park. Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides the largest protected bear habitat in the East. Though populations are variable, biologists estimate approximately 1,800 bears live in the park, a density of over two bears per square mile. Of the 65 other mammal species documented in the park, the white-tailed deer, groundhog, chipmunk, and some squirrel and bat species are the most commonly seen. Over 200 species of birds are regularly sighted in the park, 85 of those migrate from the neotropics.
Some 120 species nest here. Thirty bird species that are listed as Species of Concern breed here, making the park an important source for repopulating areas outside the park that are showing declines in the numbers of these birds. Surrounded by warm lowlands, the cool, moist, climate of the park"s highest elevations creates islands of habitat suitable for animals commonly found in more northern areas, allowing them to live far south of their present primary ranges. Northern species such as the northern flying squirrel, red squirrel, and rock vole thrive at high elevations, while the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Canada Warbler, Common Raven, and other birds reach their southern most breeding point here in the park. Over 700 miles of streams in the park support fish. The park boasts over 50 native fish species, including the brook trout, whose fragile habitat is being wrested from the non-native rainbow and brown trout by active fisheries management. Low elevation, slower and warmer streams have the greatest aquatic diversity including four reintroduced federally threatened and endangered small fish: the Smoky Madtom, Yellowfin Madtom, Spotfin Chub, and Duskytail Darter. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been called the "Salamander Capital of the World."
Climatic and geologic factors have combined to spur the development of 30 salamander species in five families, making this one of the most diverse areas on earth for this order. In fact, lungless salamanders have undergone an extraordinary level of evolutionary diversification in the park—24 species inhabit the park, making it the center of diversity for the family. Prior to park establishment in 1934, a number of animals native to the Smoky Mountains were eradicated by hunting, trapping, changing land uses, and other causes. Extirpated species include bison, elk, mountain lion, gray wolf, red wolf, fisher, river otter, Peregrine Falcon, and several species of fish. A primary goal of the National Park Service is to preserve the flora and fauna of the Smokies in a condition similar to that which existed prior to the arrival of modern, technological humans. In accordance with this mission, the Park Service has helped reintroduce the river otter, elk, and Peregrine Falcon to the Smokies.
As human activities dominate ever-larger portions of the American landscape, our national parks have become increasingly valuable as sanctuaries for rare and endangered wildlife. Endangered park animals include the northern flying squirrel, Peregrine Falcon, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Indiana bat, spruce-fir moss spider, and the Smoky madtom. The Park Service has been involved in a number of efforts to save these species from extinction. Park resource management crews have conducted prescribed fires in old-growth pine-oak forest to create suitable nesting sites for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Crews have also erected solid steel barricades at cave entrances to protect endangered bats from spelunkers during critical times of the year. Reintroduction programs have also increased the survival chances for Smoky madtoms and Peregrine Falcons. Viewing wildlife in the Smokies can be challenging because most of the park is covered by dense forest. Open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoon, Wild Turkey, woodchuck, and other animals. During winter, wildlife is more visible because deciduous trees have lost their leaves. Since many animals are most active at night, it can be advantageous to look for wildlife during morning and evening. It's also a good idea to carry binoculars. And don't forget to scan the trees—many animals spend their days among the branches.