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Baby Bison Euthanized After Tourists Try to “Save” It

Don’t touch the wildlife

A mother and baby bison in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. (Rich Keen/DPRA/Flickr)
smithsonian.com

Last week, an unidentified father and son were touring Yellowstone National Park when they found a bison calf in the middle of the road. Bison jams are common in the popular national park, but this one was unusual. The baby animal was alone and they thought it looked cold.

So the pair wrangled the calf into the back of their Toyota Sequoia and took it to the nearest ranger station at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Nate Eaton reports for EastIdahoNews.com that Karen Richardson, a teacher who was chaperoning a group of fifth graders at the ranch, witnessed the father and son demanding to speak with a ranger. “They were seriously worried the calf was freezing and dying.”

Eaton also reports that Rob Heusevelet, another chaperone, told the men, who appeared to be from another country, that they would get in trouble for having the calf in their car. “They didn’t care,” Heusevelet says. “They sincerely thought they were doing a service and helping that calf by trying to save it from the cold.”

When the rangers intervened, they instructed the men to lead them back to where they found the calf and release it. But after a week, the calf still wasn’t rejoining the herd. In a statement released yesterday, the Park Service announced that they had to euthanize the little bison. “In terms of human safety, this was a dangerous activity because adult animals are very protective of their young and will act aggressively to defend them. In addition, interference by people can cause mothers to reject their offspring,” according to the press release. 

Despite multiple efforts, the rangers were unsuccessful in reuniting the newborn bison calf with the herd. The abandoned calf kept approaching people and cars along the roadway, which eventually led to the rangers' decision to euthanized it.

The announcement caused an outcry on social media. Many questioned the decision and suggested that the Park Service should take the calf to a rehabilitation facility. Yet the NPS defended its decision.

“In Yellowstone, it’s not a zoo,” Charissa Reid, a Yellowstone spokeswoman tells The Washington Post“We don’t manage for individuals; we manage for ecosystems.”

The incident with the calf is just one of many run-ins with the 4,900 bison at Yellowstone. The NPS release points to a video recently circulating of a visitor approaching within an arm’s length of an adult bison and another where visitors took selfies with the giant animals from an unsafe distance. Last year five Yellowstone visitors were seriously injured after getting too close to the newly minted National Mammal.  

Reid also reported that the calf-nappers received a $110 ticket and that the National Parks’ Investigative Service may issue more charges.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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