Not just a wildlife faux pas, but also against the law

National Parks Wildlife Safari
Thomas J. Story

The National Park Service’s mission is to preserve the natural and cultural resources of our nation for future generations. Part of that mission is enabling people to observe animals in their habitats. Do you know what’s not in that mission? Letting people pet a giant wild bison.

In early August, a tourist at Yellowstone National Park was caught on camera petting a wild bison. In the video, a group of young children can be seen in the corner observing and photographing the animal from a safe distance. Then, about 30 seconds into the video, an adult man approaches the animal and pets it as onlookers whisper for him to stop. The animal gets spooked by the man’s actions and stumbles away.

The man’s decision to pet the animal was not only naive but also illegal. As Yellowstone’s website explains, it is unlawful to “…willfully [remain] near or [approach] wildlife, including nesting birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.” According to the park’s regulations, tourists must remain at least 25 yards (75 feet) from large animals — like bison — and at least 100 yards (300 feet) from bears and wolves.

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The video has now become part of an investigation by law enforcement.

“The individual who recently was captured on video touching a wild bison along a park boardwalk showed an incredible lack of judgment and common sense,” Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly told For The Win Outdoors. “Not only did he put himself and others at risk, he violated regulations designed to keep these animals wild. We expect better from our visitors.”

This news comes less than one month after a 9-year-old girl was thrown into the air by a charging bison at Yellowstone. A teenage hiker in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park walked between two fighting bison and was thrown six feet into the air as well.

These stories are a good reminder to pay attention and adhere to warnings when encountering wildlife. A park spokesperson told For The Win Outdoors, “If need be, turn around and go the other way to avoid interacting with a wild animal in close proximity.”